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Heard the one about the lawyer who couldn’t find a job? No? Well, keep listening — they’re all over the place. Ask Lee Feldshon, a 33-year-old entertainment lawyer who lives in New York. He graduated from Columbia University Law School in 1994, worked at New York’s White & Case and several other well-established law firms in the 1990s, then landed a job as director of legal affairs for Madison Square Garden in 2001. He got laid off in 2002. Feldshon has been looking for a full-time lawyer job ever since, 15 months and counting. “I was very confident that I’d find a new job soon,” he said. He bought a 150-page notebook to track his mailed-out resumes and follow-up phone calls. As he filled the pages with records of fruitless efforts, the reality of today’s job market sank in. “Not only were jobs hard to get, they just didn’t exist,” he said. “It was the same chant: ‘You have great qualifications. We just wish we had a job for you.’” He has approached at least 250 companies or firms, he said. The Labor Department says that white-collar unemployment is the highest it’s ever been, nearly 9 percent. For lawyers, at 1.2 percent, it’s the highest since 1997. While that rate is low in absolute terms (in 2002, 11,000 unemployed out of 940,000), it’s up sharply from 0.8 percent in 2001 and 0.6 percent in 1999. In other words, attorney joblessness jumped by half last year and has doubled since the Internet boom’s peak. The “real” rate is higher than the official one, though it’s impossible to say by how much. The government considers all those working more than one hour a week in their chosen fields to be employed. And some lawyers have simply left the law. Every lawyer seems to know someone temping at nonlegal work. Recruiters say they see a small but steady stream of lawyers leaving the profession. Unemployed professionals now take longer to find work than they used to. The average period of joblessness last year was nearly 18 weeks, up from 12 in 1991. The “core” unemployed, those out of work for 27 weeks or more, comprise one-fifth of the unemployed. The result is a growing number of lawyers practicing something they never expected: long-term joblessness. “I do find it frustrating,” said Steven Spear, 35, a corporate lawyer in Boston. Fresh from the University of Connecticut School of Law in 1998, Spear began working at Boston’s Goodwin Procter, representing its emerging-business clients at the height of the Internet boom. He lost his job in November 2001 as part of layoffs imposed because, he was told, “things were slow.” Since then he has done contract legal work and public relations free-lance writing, collected unemployment and looked for work. “You always know that failure could happen,” he said. “And then guess what? You’re the one who rolled snake eyes.” This bad job market began in the summer of 2001, when Palo Alto, Calif., powerhouse Cooley Godward cut 85 lawyers. The list since then is long: 32 lawyers laid off from Mountain View, Calif.’s Fenwick & West; 34 at Boston’s Testa, Hurwitz & Thibeault; 46 at Palo Alto’s Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich; and 80 at New York’s Shearman & Sterling. San Francisco’s Brobeck Phleger & Harrison, an Internet economy kingpin that employed some 875 attorneys at its peak in 2001, dissolved completely. Government and business legal departments are being battered, too. Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney wants to halve the 800-odd lawyers working for the state as he tries to close a $3 billion budget gap. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office cut 101 trademark examiners, all attorneys, in 2002. According to a survey by Corporate Legal Times, IBM cut 42 attorneys from its legal department last year; SBC Corp., 35; Merrill Lynch, 30; and AT&T, 25. Those numbers came out last August, before, lawyers and recruiters say, job cutting turned really bad. “We’re just seeing more and more of this,” said Jeffrey Simon, a legal recruiter at Chicago’s River West Consultants. “Things are virtually at a standstill, and this is the start of the third year of it.” VULNERABLE AREAS The legal industry is not suffering uniformly. Practices such as bankruptcy, patent prosecution and litigation still do well. The most vulnerable attorneys seem to fall into four groups: � Dot-com hotshots. They often started as big-firm corporate associates in the 1990s and jumped to general counsel jobs at startups during the Internet boom. Today, their employers are often bankrupt, and their limited experience makes it difficult to compete for the few corporate counsel or law firm jobs available. � Unprofitable partners. Firms today are more willing to cut loose partners who cannot bring in sufficient new business. Older partners might essentially be forced into early retirement. Younger ones without solid books of business, as much as $2 million annually in some cities, often cannot get a firm’s attention. � In-house counsel. Thanks to mergers, restructurings or budget cutbacks, many corporate counsel jobs have vanished. Those with jobs are staying put. � Corporate associates. Workhorses of the 1990s boom, they are at risk because of falling demand from firms’ corporate clients. With little experience, they have few options other than to send out r�sum�s, network and hunt for temporary legal work to pay the bills. Not surprisingly, the worst markets today are those that enjoyed the most success in the 1990s. San Francisco; Silicon Valley, Calif.; Boston; and New York all saw booms and could not hire lawyers fast enough to fill burgeoning corporate and technology practices. “The Bay Area is probably the worst market in the country now. It’s far worse than the early 1990s,” said Avis Caravello, a legal recruiter in Silicon Valley. Layoffs in the valley started in earnest 18 months ago, and Caravello knows lawyers from that first wave who still haven’t found full-time work. Alan Tse, a 1997 graduate of Harvard Law School, is one of the luckier Silicon Valley lawyers. He was out of work for only seven months. Tse lost his job last August as general counsel of Centerpoint Broadband Technologies, a telecommunications startup, as it went into bankruptcy. He found full-time work at another startup. Tse, 31, has six lawyer friends who have been out of work for more than a year. He knows three former associates who worked at cosmetics counters at department stores to get through the holiday season. Unemployment benefits help, he said, but they usually top out at $1,300 a month — little comfort in Silicon Valley, where a modest one-bedroom apartment like Tse’s rents for $1,400 a month. “Some people are in deep trouble,” he said. “The benefits don’t go very far out here.” Tse sent out several dozen r�sum�s, he said, and managed to get in the door and interview with about 20 businesses. SIX MONTHS, FIVE POSSIBILITIES “In six months’ time I saw only five really good jobs,” he said. “I was competing with guys who were partners at firms or who had six to 10 years more experience than me.” Even veteran lawyers find the job search today difficult. “It’s not the best place to be, looking for a job, no matter what field you’re in,” said Robert Bruce, of counsel in Indianapolis-based Barnes & Thornburg’s Chicago office. “I do think that for some of the more senior folks, especially coming from in-house, it’s a tough row to hoe.” Bruce, 45, spent 16 years at the legal department of ServiceMaster Co. before losing his job in a restructuring last year. It took him six months of talking with firms around Chicago before he secured a full-time position in the labor practice of Barnes & Thornburg. Another former in-house counsel, who asked that his name not be published, has 15 years of experience as a lawyer for several large Boston-area businesses; he was laid off in November 2001 and has not found a full-time job since. “The level of difficulty in finding a job now is sort of like the perfect storm,” he said. WORKING FOR FRIENDS The former in-house counsel and his wife make ends meet thanks to her income and the legal work he does for friends and business acquaintances, but he said his income is at least 30 percent below that of his last salaried job. He said he networks relentlessly, attending legal industry social events, doing pro bono work and soliciting job leads from friends. “The last year would actually have been really fun, if I knew there was a full-time job at the end of it all,” he said. But without that happy ending? “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.” Meanwhile, the bills must be paid. And for the long-term unemployed, that fact has begun raising questions lawyers never expected they would need to answer. Feldshon’s unemployment benefits ceased in November. One month later, he landed his first temp job, working on a financing deal for New York’s Fognani Guibord Homsy & Roberts. After being so long without work, he said, “It was a great boost to the self-esteem.” That job lasted two weeks. He subsequently landed another temp job at New York’s Cravath, Swaine & Moore reviewing financial documents at $35 an hour. That assignment ended on March 10. Feldshon lives in an Upper West Side studio that costs $1,620 a month. His student loans are paid off. Still, he has dropped cable television, and skips dining out in favor of home-cooked meals. He is considering a move to Los Angeles, where an entertainment lawyer might stand a better chance of success. His savings, he said, “have been severely tapped.” The financial strain is being felt by many, said Joe Madden, who runs his own legal recruiting firm in Boston. “I don’t think this is like anything anyone has ever seen,” he said.

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