Russ Ferguson, in a letter to the editor of the American Spectator begins:
When I began law school at Georgetown, it was the golden era for well-paid corporate legal work. If you put in your three years at a halfway-decent law school and made modest grades, a law firm would hire you at an outrageous salary.
It’s all downhill from there. After the jump, we explain where he goes horribly astray and why.
According to his LinkedIn profile, he graduated in 2009 and is currently working on his LLM (the last bastion for scoundrels) in Securities and Financial Regulation. So he started in September 2006, which certainly was a fine time to be in BigLaw. He continues
It was the norm for lawyers to be making $160,000 their first year out of law school — and that’s before a bonus (which often topped six figures).
Don’t blink! Did you catch that? Yes, bonuses often topped six figures, but not for first years (except at Wachtell, which was at 100% that year). Implying that they did is disingenuous, especially considering it overstates the bonuses by a factor of three. New York market bonus for first years in 2006 was only a prorated piece of $30,000. 2005 grads, who had completed their full first year by December 06, got $35,000.
So we already knew we weren’t off to a good start with Mr. Ferguson. He then goes on to explain how things went from good to bad and the birth of the deferral.
Law firms wanted a reserve workforce committed to them to be on call and ready to go should the market pick back up. What they may be getting, however, is quite different. A lot of these associates are trying to find a way to stay in their public interests jobs, or at least a related field, and may have given up on law firm work forever.
That’s just not what we’re hearing. Associates are freaking out that their start dates keep getting pushed back and they’re clamoring to get back on the career path they chose. At best, they’re saying that the deferral has given them a nice perspective on other practices, but we’re just not hearing anything that would justify saying “a lot” of these associates won’t go right back to BigLaw as soon as the time out is over.
These new lawyers have found that their new jobs are more fulfilling and more interesting, and — more importantly — they’ve seen that they can live on a smaller salary. As one of my classmates put it, “Add up the hours I worked this week and add up the hours my friends at law firms worked. Divide our salaries by the amount of hours and you’ll see — I’m rich.”
That “smaller salary” is subsidized by the firms and is going to go away eventually. These are people who are being paid in many cases $60,000 to do jobs that offer actual starting salaries south of $40,000. Are they going to feel so “rich” when their salary is cut by another third? Not to mention stepping down in the quality of healthcare benefits they’ve been enjoying on the firms’ plans.
These firms may have given associates a sweet deal in order to retain top talent; but that deal may be backfiring as more and more of those associates leave the firm for good.
Does he actually think someone is going to be sorry to see them go? There’s another whole class of deferred associates behind the 09′ers that has to be dealt with. I’m sure the firms would be delighted to have paid for the year of public service and be done with the participants. That just opens up room for the slightly more-appropriately sized incoming class of 2010 grads.
There is a sense among this class of lawyers that their law firms don’t care if they come back or not. Suddenly, without law firms competing with one another to shower new associates with perks, they have lost their appeal.
That first sentence is spot on. They don’t care, and why should they?
We’re not sure we understand the second sentence – in part because we’re terrible with pronouns (the antecedent for “their” in his sentence is “perks,” which doesn’t make any sense). He could either mean that the associates have lost their appeal to the firms, which is absolutely true. Considering how wrong he’s been about everything else, though, we kind of think he meant that the firms have lost their appeal to the associates. We think he’s wrong on that, too, but even if he’s right, no one but those associates cares. BigLaw is moving on without them.
For our money, a much better insight into deferrals is by Andrew Ardinger, who is writing a series for AmLaw (and part 2) while working for the Public Interest Law Project in San Francisco on Orrick’s dime.
Russ appears to be showing a little bit of the entitlement and self-importance that marked the beginning of his law-school career. Why else would he think anyone other than those deferred would be particularly concerned if the lost generation of 2009 didn’t make it into BigLaw? There’s plenty of people behind them clamoring for spots.