“[T]here is a class of lawyers, actually lawyers-to-be, that we should have sympathy and empathy for: incoming first year associates. The Class of 2020 will have a very tough time, even tougher than the Classes of the last downturn in 2008 and 2009.”
As the pandemic sweeps the world, there are countless unfortunate victims in addition to the projected hundreds of thousands who will ultimately die of this contagious virus. Millions of businesses are affected and a large percentage will never open their doors again. Thus, in addition to the pain and death inflicted upon us, there is immense economic uncertainty.
Law firms are not at all immune to this pandemic since their clients aren’t. Most law firms have cut partner pay, and cut the pay of associates also. They are also firing and furloughing partners and associates. We all know that most of Society cares not that lawyers suffer, economically that is. But there is a class of lawyers, actually lawyers-to-be, that we should have sympathy and empathy for: incoming first year associates. The Class of 2020 will have a very tough time, even tougher than the Classes of the last downturn in 2008 and 2009. The associates that suffered then are likely partners now, and have more empathy. I just missed the aftermath of the 1987 stock crash, which lingered for a couple of years. The Class of 1990 was mostly ok.
Most firms have canceled their offers to the Class of 2020. Of course, from the law firms’ perspectives, all of these incoming people are untrained and require a few years to make profitable. That is the harsh reality of law. With law firms unable to hold onto their own cash cows, why would they saddle themselves with neophytes? Long ago law became a business and less a profession. When I was a partner in some big firms, the driver was always PPP or profits per partner and other such measures designed to maximize a profit unevenly shared. Now, law firms are slicing to the bone to survive. It is ugly out there, as many of you reading this well know. My solo practice is also not immune.
But from the perspective of these incoming recruits, eager and ready to learn and practice law finally after incurring hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, and with the salvation of a $200,000/year paycheck almost in their grasp, the rug has been pulled out from underneath them. There are likely no jobs for the vast majority of these aspirants for the rest of 2020. Any jobs in the public sector and non-profits, when they finally reopen, will likely be swamped by the uncountable thousands of now fired or indefinitely furloughed partners and associates. At least in 2008/2009, there were some jobs, lower paying legal jobs, out there, and those graduates could step down but did not have to step out of law to survive. Unless Trump pulls an economic miracle, which he may, these doldrums are likely to push into 2021, when a whole new crop of newly-minted and very scared lawyers matures. The Class of 2021 will likely not get many offers, and indeed all of their 2020 summer clerkships are now gone anyway. Another unfortunate class now in competition with the entire corps of the Class of 2020 and with many other more senior attorneys.
Just as in Rachel Carson’s seminal book, another pestilence has entered our lives, which affects our, i.e., the law’s, own. Our young will need more care and feeding – but this will sadly have to wait. There is not much succor now. The Class of 2020 thus needs to study for the bar and do everything they can to make themselves marketable. Nepotism may not be that terrible for some time.
There is no easy solution or help other than for us all to be cognizant in the future that the class of 2020, along with 2021, through no fault of their own, are being disenfranchised. Wherever possible, and when these tumultuous times calms down, give one or more of these unfortunates a chance. Remember that you were in their shoes once, also eager and ready, but you had mentors and progressed. For a long time, the Classes of 2020 and 2021 will be wondering if this will ever happen for them.