Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tough Times for Job Seekers

Today's New York Times features an article, "Downturn Dims Prospects Even at Top Law Schools," that makes clear just how tough the job market is this season. The dire situation is summarized in the opening paragraph: "This fall, law students are competing for half as many openings at big firms as they were last year in what is shaping up to be the most wrenching job search season in over 50 years." The article talks about firms that are slashing hiring, cancelling recruiting, and postponing recruiting while they wait to see if the market picks up. On-campus interviewing is down even at the top-tier schools, and students who once assumed that they could count on corporate law jobs that would enable them to pay back their student loans are now looking for jobs with public-interest organizations and the government. Of course, none of this is news to readers of the Above the Law blog, which provides a daily chronicle of the legal employment market. The article doesn't discuss the repercussions of this unprecedented hiring crisis on students who go to less highly ranked schools, but finding a job is even harder for them. One positive result of the contraction in the demand for legal services is that it is forcing firms to look at the "economic inefficiencies" that have long gone unquestioned. Firms have been reexamining the billable hour, "apprenticeships or tiered systems that depart from the traditional 'up or out' partner-track models. Some industry observers say their moves represent first steps that may ultimately give firms greater flexibility in hiring." As the article concludes, none of this innovation is going to offer much relief to members of the class of 2011, who are victims of a "unique logjam created last year. After the September financial crisis, firms chose to defer their new hires at the price of steeply cutting recruiting this year." Many law schools are welcoming slightly larger classes than usual this fall, but I wonder how long this will continue. At what point will students look at the amount of debt they will incur to go to law school and decide that the chances of their getting a job are so low that it just doesn't make financial sense to attend law school?

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