Saturday, August 1, 2009

The New Economic Reality

I have been looking for specific information and projections on how the legal field (or industry) will fare in a post peak-oil America. The closest I have been able to find is a passage from Dmitri Orlov's book "Reinventing Collapse", which I had the pleasure to read recently. I highly recommend it. Orlov is a Russian native who spent time there during the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the book examines the similarities and differences between the USSR at the time of its collapse and the United States today, where a collapse seems to be getting more and more likely.

My interest in how the legal field will be impacted stems from the fact that I enrolled in a paralegal studies program after getting my B.A. I have now finished the program, and will probably have to take at least one unpaid internship before getting something that pays, assuming there is something out there. In his book "The Long Emergency" (which I am currently re-reading, and the work that introduced me to our pending crisis), James Kunstler says that "hard" jobs (agriculture, farming, carpentry) will be in demand after our "fossil fuel fiesta" (his term) ends, while "soft" jobs (like in real estate, public relations, and yes, law) will be increasingly scarce, as they will cease to carry the relevance that they have had in society as we know it. And in case you're wondering, I discovered peak oil more than halfway through the paralegal program. I very well might not have taken it if I had found out about it earlier.

Anyway, I found this message board entry while searching on

"Because I live and work in the still-relatively properous national capital region, I don't often experience the drastic effects of the economic downturn. Today was a rare exception.

My office is has an opening for one administrative position that involves taking complaints. Because of the specific nature of the work, the opening is only advertised among people in our field. I am the person who will be making the selction. There is no possibility that the job will lead to career advancement. It is what it is, a glorified clerical position.

Today, a guy from another office asked me to take a look at the resume of his nephew. I couldn't believe it. Kid earned his Bachelor's Degree in 2005 at a major university with a 3.67 GPA. He went on to law school where he was an honor society student for all three years and finished with an internship at the DA's office in Philadelphia. He graduated in 2008, and has passed two different bar exams.

Since then? Nothing. His uncle told me that at this point he's desperate for ANY kind of job. The worst part is that I had to tell the uncle that even though his nephew is way overqualified for the position, because he has never been employed in our field our HR rules will not allow us to hire him.

Welcome to the new economic relatity in America."

This is probably a situation that a lot of us twenty-and-thirtysomethings can relate to. Overeducated, overqualified, and underemployed, or unemployed. My only solace is that I had initially planned to either take a Master's in Library Science or go to law school; both of these options would have been dangerously expensive, with law school running at least 100K. I chose to go into this Paralegal Studies program because it was touted as a growing field (who knows if that is still the case) and also for its much lower cost and time allocation. In the course of a little over a year, I was done with the program and racked up around 2K in loan debt (I was able to pay for some of it myself). I would not have even been able to start law school until this fall. So, if worse comes to worse, it was only a year of my life and some change. I couldn't picture how I would feel if I went to law school, overachieved like this poor kid, and not been able to find a job.

I apologize for this post running off the rails, but I read an article in Newsday last week about the community college crunch, and how a weak economy has prompted more and more people to go into the classroom. As inexpensive as community college is compared to a 4-year university or graduate school, I think any foray into higher education at this time, is little more than a waste. There are more and more people chasing fewer and fewer jobs, and the workforce is oversaturated with B.A's and Master's Degrees. We are putting ourselves in a lifetime of debt, owing five and six-figure amounts to loan companies which often charge userious rates, for what amounts to a nice looking piece of paper to frame on our wall. And the way our economy is structured, there are very few jobs which are either recession-proof, or outsource-proof. Many people are going to colleges because their original jobs disappeared, and they have to learn a new skill. Who's to say that that new skill won't be outsourced to? What can they do then, go back to school again? We're like the proverbial mouse running on the wheel.

But I understand that making yourself more qualified for a job is only one reason you should go to college. Another, very important reason is to enrich your mind and be able to look at the world from different perspectives. From that view, I can't say that I regret going to college, despite the burden it's imposed on me financially. But with that being said, we are in the Information Age. If we want to learn anything, on virtually any subject or topic, it's literally at our fingertips. Or, if you don't have a computer, it's as close as a walk or a drive to your local library. You can learn virtually anything you desire, and it will be from your best teacher, yourself. The paradox is that I had to go to college to learn this. My hope is that someone else, fresh out of high school, who is uncertain about his or her future, and about going to college, reads this and takes my advice.

No comments: