Monday, October 08, 2007

A Sober Look at Job Prospects

Late this past summer, the Stud received a request for an interview with one Amir Efrati of the Wall Street Journal regarding job prospects for those of us in the middle of the pack at a law school that's not in the top 25. The conversation led off with a side discussion of the trials and tribulations of a commenter at the WSJ Law Blog, in a very public fashion. (Note: It was not the Stud.) At the heart of this commenter's laments lie the obstacles that face people like the Stud in the job market. To wit, without being in the top 15%, it is very difficult to secure a big law firm offer, or virtually any other job, without a serious amount of pounding the pavement. Even for those of us that have found jobs before graduation, they are typically clerking jobs that may or may not translate into real offers come graduation.

Two weeks ago, Amir Efrati's finished article made it to the Journal, and immediately caused a stir in the law school community.

For graduates of elite law schools, prospects have never been better. Big law firms this year boosted their starting salaries to as high as $160,000. But the majority of law-school graduates are suffering from a supply-and-demand imbalance that's suppressing pay and job growth. The result: Graduates who don't score at the top of their class are struggling to find well-paying jobs to make payments on law-school debts that can exceed $100,000. Some are taking temporary contract work, reviewing documents for as little as $20 an hour, without benefits. And many are blaming their law schools for failing to warn them about the dark side of the job market.

The law degree that Scott Bullock gained in 2005 from Seton Hall University -- where he says he ranked in the top third of his class -- is a "waste," he says. Some former high-school friends are earning considerably more as plumbers and electricians than the $50,000-a-year Mr. Bullock is making as a personal-injury attorney in Manhattan. To boot, he is paying off $118,000 in law-school debt.

"Unfortunately, some find the practice of law is not for them," Seton Hall's associate dean, Kathleen Boozang, said through a spokeswoman. "However, it is our experience that a legal education is a tremendous asset for a variety of professional paths."

The Stud spoke to Graham, our Dean of Career Services, casually after hours about this state of affairs, and came away with no different perception than before: While the Office of Career Services does justifiably expend considerable energy helping those at the top, it does do quite a bit for those in the middle of the pack, but many of us will still have to do the heavy lifting ourselves. All that OCS can do for us is show us the door; we are the ones who must knock on the door, force it open if possible, and walk on through. Even those at the top have to bust their behinds doing well on interviews. The Stud knew many in his section that secured so many first round interviews that they had to miss class for several weeks--and yet never wound up with more than handful of call backs, if that.

A little more research online reveals a pair of articles from Empirical Legal Studies: Distribution of 2006 Starting Salaries and a postscript. Readers are strongly urged to read both articles, but what stood out, dismally, was this graph:

Now that's a bit depressing, and evokes memories of "Law School Musical". Now, we at LLS are fortunate in that we're the largest law school in the region, if not the state and nation. This does mean that there will be more of us who are initially disappointed, to be sure; but it also means that we have a very large alumni network.

What does this very large alumni network mean? It means, as the Stud noted in "Welcome and Welcome Back":

Here at Loyola, no matter the trials and travails in the days to come, look to your left, and look to your right. That is your brother. That is your sister. They will have bunked down in the trenches with us. They will have shared their joys and sorrows. And most will still be with us.

Look at them now. Go to them. Say anything, if only "hello". Or, if you're shy, smile or wave. They have shared with you what few other human beings will have gone through. And in the future, they may just be your "in", not only in your career, but perhaps in your personal relationships.

Be mindful of all this, and don't give up. Most of all, don't stop doing the hard work you'll need to do to make your investment in these three years a worthwhile one.

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