Monday, September 24, 2007

Negotiating a Tough Job Market

Law Students and law student wannabes – know the job market

A colleague of mine distributed an article from the Wall Street Journal law blog, titled The Dark Side of Legal Job Market (not available for linking, sorry!). There were two points addressed:

1. Be realistic: The job market and pay ranges for most legal jobs is considerably lower than people think. Only the very best students in a class, and mostly those from top-ranked law schools, get a chance at the big firm jobs that pay the best starting salaries. For lawyers outside the big firms and in-house counsel jobs that pay the best, salaries have failed to keep up with the general increase percentages since about 1995, and in some cases, the take-home pay is level or dropping, when adjusted for inflation. Thus, there are two distinct legal job markets. The top 25% and the rest. The rest includes part-time contract work without benefits at $20-30/hour reading contracts. So people’s expectations of what lawyers do and make is mostly very out of line with reality.

2. Base decisions on good information: Law schools reporting of graduates’ employment rates and salaries is based on a very small percentage of the class that reports. It tends to be self-selecting, as those with plum jobs are the most likely to report back. So the numbers you see reported on law school websites and brochures tend to be misleading for the majority of students who will graduate. At this point, the article notes one law school, University of Richmond, calling for truth in marketing and posting realistic information about the percentage of students included in their employment and salary reporting.

That being said, another colleague chimed in with some words of wisdom. First, students do have some control over where they rank in their class.. You can enhance your marketability after law school in several ways.

1. Improve your chances by working hard NOW: While law school is usually graded on a curve, pitting student against student, it does pay off to prepare, to attend class and to outline your notes yourself. You should spend at least two hours preparing for each hour of class. You should also be starting your outlines NOW – the earlier the better, though you’ll also want to boil your outline down at the end of the semester, to see the big picture. First year grades are especially important. While you are expected to be confused at the beginning of 1-L, don’t make excuses. Your 1-L grades a strong predictors of both your bar passage likelihood and your final position in the class.

2. Polish your resume: Try to put an honor board on your resume. While most places on law review staffs are awarded based on grade ranking, many journals also offer an open write-on option. Even if you are not in the top of your class, you can try to join either a journal or possibly a moot court organization.

3. Think different: Consider your background. Some combinations with law degrees take you out of the ordinary job market. Backgrounds in hard sciences and health/medical fields make you much more marketable. There is a very hot market for intellectual property and health lawyers. Likewise, if you have a library degree and are adding a JD, that’s a hot job market these days, too. Especially strong outlook for JD/MLS types if you have some real library employment on the resume, not just internships or volunteering.

4. Think different, too: Consider taking yourself out of the typical law job pool entirely. Try thinking about jobs with banks, corporations, businesses that could benefit from your legal training.

5. Use your contacts: Use your contacts to look for a job. Many people get their jobs by knowing somebody in a firm, having family, church/temple/mosque connections, or serving a niche population. If you are part of an ethnic or other identity group that has any kind of population density, you can set up a law firm (perhaps after a year or two in a small firm to get your feet wet) that caters to that population. You will have a ready-made clientele who will spread your reputation (make sure it’s a good one!) by word of mouth.

6. Expand your contacts: Another aspect of this is networking as a law student. A few law schools have Continuing Legal Education offices, that put on programs for the bench and bar. Students may be allowed to attend free. This is an excellent opportunity to meet practitioners, find out about specialty areas, and learn the hot topics for when you interview. If your school does not have a CLE arm, consider joining the local bar association or the ABA as a student. Again, take advantage of the CLE classes you’ll be able to attend, as well as bar meetings to meet folks and learn about practicing law in a completely different way than your law school.

7. Think different, III: Look at public interest and government jobs, local, state and federal. With the new bill just passed for loan forgiveness, this is suddenly much more attractive. You can pay off student loans at a liveable rate and wipe out loans after 10 years, regardless of how much is left on the books. What a deal! (Link here to read about this new law)

8. Get help: Use your school’s career services office. Many offices will have workshops throughout the year to help you hone your resume and interviewing skills. They may also be able to consult with you one on one to make a viable job hunting strategy. Your tuition dollars are paying for the service, so use it. But take responsibility for your own job search. They cannot apply or get the job for you! You can also use web resources now to help broaden your job search; see BCG Attorney Search,HG Worldwide Legal Directories; Attorney Research Group offers regional job info. And there are dozens more sites that claim to offer links to legal jobs. Do not ever send money to a site that claims it will get you a job in exchange. Ask your school’s career services office for more tips. Even if you graduated a while ago, most schools’ career services offices are available for alumni as well.

9. Think different IV: Consider relocating out of your current area. So many students want to stay in the city where they attended school, that it really overfills the job market there. Consider moving. Rural practices can be very lucrative; my classmate who settled in a small town far from our school was the guy who was going on ABA winter cruises by the time we were a few years out of law schoo. But remember, in a town with one lawyer, the attorney will starve -- you need to lawyers in a town for both to thrive.

1 comment:

Betsy McKenzie said...

The ABA Journal online has a brief article following the Wall Street Journal article. If you want to see the ABA's piece, visit