Monday, October 20, 2008

A Grim Verdict Awaits Law Grads?

Lots of debt, very few law firm jobs:
Nearly 44,000 law students nationwide will graduate next year with an average of about $73,000 in loan debt, according to numbers from the ABA.

And while most would-be lawyers already have accepted that only a small fraction will start their careers with a big-firm salary of $160,000, the past few weeks of economic chaos have caused many to wonder if any kind of attorney work is in their near future. ...

It is too early to tell to what extent law firms scaled back hiring this fall for summer associates in 2009. But James Leipold, executive director of the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), said that, anecdotally, law firms were more cautious in the offers they made. "For the class of 2009, it will be tough," he said. ...

The number of legal jobs nationwide is steadily declining, according to employment figures released this month by the U.S. Department of Labor. Jobs in the law sector shrank by 2,000 in September — the fifth consecutive month of losses. The legal work force of 1,165,100 was down by 1.15% from a year ago, when the industry employed 1,178,600 people.
It's affecting summer associate positions too:

[T]here will be 30% to 35% fewer summer associate positions nationwide in 2009. ... Not surprisingly, the shrinking pool of summer associate spots is mostly due to the turbulent economy. Law firms are looking for ways to trim budgets, and cutting summer associates is one of the easiest ways to do that ... A handful of firms have canceled their summer associate programs in 2009, while a larger number of firms have quietly reduced the number of summer associates they plan to bring on.

With fewer summer associate spots available overall, some recruiters have noticed that law students seem to be casting a wider net as they search for positions. Students who in other years may have been firmly committed to securing a spot in a New York office are now willing to look in other cities or at smaller firms.

It's also going to get increasingly difficult to break into legal academia:

I'm expecting freezes on hiring at many universities. I asked a friend at a major law school a few weeks back what he thought the effect of the economy would be on law school hiring. His response was -- characteristically -- insightful. First, fewer people are going to be retiring; second, schools will be reluctant to fill vacancies. A handful of elite schools will be insulated from the downturn, I suppose. For all the rest of us, get ready for some more belt-tightening, which may include increased teaching loads. Maybe the real crunch will be felt next year; that's hard to know. You may recall that I mentioned these issues of slowing down on (at least lateral) hires and increasing teaching loads last spring in a post on trend spotting in the legal academy (points four and five). That was before our nation's financial crisis become so severe. Finances will just accelerate those trends.

More thoughts from David Bernstein.

(HT Paul Caron)

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