Precious Pinstriped Prison Punts the Point.

This is a belated review of a book from 2008 from a disaffected former student (who worked briefly (as a summer job) at a top law firm, colloquially known as a ‘Top Tier’), who wrote what she felt would be a savage indictment of elite talents of her friends gone to waste in law firms.

A warning: much is made of people with ‘perfect scores’ who got into law- this (awkward) point is brought up repeatedly by the author (appears she’s one of them!). She then goes on to say that such perfect scores are being wasted in the corporate type jobs these grads will get.

There is various discussion about the long hours and difficulties these jobs provide their grads, particularly with professional attire (though surely other lawyers have to suit up as well, and it can’t make all the increased salary disappear, can it?). (Then again, they all got ‘perfect scores’ so they are special people).

Unfortunately, its still difficult to empathize with the top grads here, especially when you’ve experience by far what most law grads get – very basic law. (we call it small-law, though there are other names for it).

Anyone who’s worked in small-law knows the total, almost comical, bias toward the ‘top tier’. Even 30 years after graduating, your resume will be haunted (in fact binned before you start) by the fact that you haven’t worked at a ‘top tier’.  Experience and skills are irrelevant without this background.

And yet really the Top Tier is a symbol of nothing. Nobody who works there is anything special. For all the bluff and bluster about their ‘elite’ skills, Top Tier firms add as much as high flying overpaid CEOs or consulting companies (ie, nothing). In fact, ironically there’s a big overlap between the consulting companies and the Top Tier firms. And nobody’s forced to work there.

It is very difficult for anyone who’s struggled in Small-Law to have any sympathy for the poor struggling Top tier grads in this book.

I wonder if Top Tier grads have ever had the following experiences: been bailed up by an endless stream of mentally ill clients, screamed at for not taking someone’s traffic fine to the high court (not because they’re a client and you’ve agreed to work on it, but because their de facto has a ‘no win no fee’ injury case with your firm, so of course you’re responsible for everything that happens in their extended family); received death threats at midnight because of some case you’re running, and, above all, been triumphantly told the client ‘ is on a pension’ (thus meaning you have to work for them for free for life).

Compare that to the horror for the poor little dears who managed to score high marks on the law marks lottery- by aceing irrelevant issue-spotting exams (in first year) on topics long forgotten; and then spent (oh the tedium!) boring long hours with their corporate clients.  And the hours for Small-Law and the Top Tier are about the same, contrary to rumor.

The other massive difference between Top Tier grads and all other law grads are exit options. You work in small law, you stay in small law, forever. Nobody cares about how good you are, what you know, how you appear in court. You are stuck. All they know is you didn’t work in the Top Tier. The elite jobs for govt, public sector etc etc, are ringfenced for the Top Tier grads, totally and completely. It usually takes till your fifth year out when this dawns on you.

Pleasingly, since 2008, the most notable feature of the law graduate ‘market’ (if you can call it that) is the slow collapse of the ‘Top Tier’. People have woken up to the overpricing and lack of value. (Well, most people, but it’s still taking public companies and governments a while).

Of course, the other dominant group not mentioned in the ‘Pinstriped Prison’ are those who never get to go to any prison to begin with- the unemployed. And with a quintupling of grads, thats the main experience law grads will have.

Still our perfect grads are entitled to feel a bit ripped off I suppose; though of course they are not stuck in these jobs for life.