Friday, August 28, 2009

Downturn Dims Prospects Even at Top Law Schools

Prospects are not looking good for law students right now:
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.

For students now, the promise of the big law firm career — and its paychecks — is slipping through their fingers, forcing them to look at lesser firms in smaller markets as well as opportunities in government or with public interest groups, law school faculty and students say.

The frenzy has even pushed the nation’s top firms, a tradition-bound coterie, into discussing how to reform the recruitment process with an earnestness that would have been unthinkable just years ago.

Even if the economy is beginning to pick up, the legal profession has been pummeled over the last year, with some firms closing and survivors often asking associates to take leaves of absence.

How bad is it? Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, the juggernaut of New York, has slashed its hiring by more than half. For the first time in 136 years, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, a respected Philadelphia firm, has canceled its recruiting entirely. Global firms like DLA Piper and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe have postponed recruiting for several months to see if the market improves.
According to the article things look particularly grim for the class of 2011.

One of the biggest problems that seems to be hitting law students right now is the massive debt loads many carry (over half of law students in a recent survey carried six figure debts) with the expectation of six-figure salaries upon graduation. This becomes especially bad because school loans are legally some of the worst kinds of debt you can get into -- being both non-secured and non-dischargeable debt.

To quote a student from the article:
“You almost bank on the big firms hiring you because they’re really the only ones who can help you pay your debt,” he said, his mind already skipping forward to a situation he didn’t choose to articulate. “Quite frankly it would be an absolute disaster. I don’t know what I’d do.”
My advice to friends in law school -- keep your debts as low as possible. If you're not in law school and are thinking about going, I'd strongly encourage you to consider waiting and see how the legal job market fares over the next year or so. Under normal circumstances, law school can be a big gamble. Right now the odds are particularly stacked against you for coming up with a positive payoff.

(HT Paul Caron)

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