A 2010 Graduate’s View of the Legal Employment Market: How I Landed Where I Am

Hello Everyone!

I am Ellen Branch,* a 2010 graduate of an east coast law school ranked in the 51-100 range by U.S. News.  If you’re about to enter law school or are thinking about it, you’re right to wonder about how recent law school graduates are doing.  Kyle Pasewark, the President and Founder of Advise-In Solutions, regularly posts information and analysis on this blog about recent market trends and the prospects for entering law students.  My posts will be a little different:  the stories of students who are actually going through the process of finding a job now, about the emotional and mental challenges, and about what methods have worked and which haven’t.  I’m here to provide some guidance, and some first-hand experiences to help make transitioning into this new economic climate and starting law school a bit easier and better-informed for all of you.

Let  me start by giving everyone an idea of where my classmates and I stand in the job market.  At graduation this spring, while handing us our diplomas, the President of our law school asked us where we were working upon graduation.  It was not surprising to me that nearly half of my large class (about 40%) graduated without a job or prospect of one (but still generally graduated with a lot of debt to repay).  About 40% will be working as a clerk for a state judge next year in criminal, civil, or family court and another approximately 10% will be working as first-year associates at law firms that they worked for as summer associates in the summer between their second and third years.  Of those, most if not all had their start dates pushed back to January 2011.  The remaining approximately 10% have lined up jobs as paralegals, for non-profit companies, or left the legal field completely to go back to the job that they had prior to starting law school (accounting, business, sales, etc.).  Although law schools may count them as “employed” in their statistics, the latter are not generally the jobs these students had hoped for after law school (although some did want non-profit work).

When we entered law school, few of us were prepared for this contraction.  By the middle of our second year, it was well underway.  You may be asking yourself – what did we all do to prepare for this economy, where did we obtain information about where to look for a job, why is it so difficult, and how can you guard against being in the same position when you graduate that most of my classmates and I are in?

Like most of my classmates, I entered law school thinking that upon graduation, I would be able to work at a midsize or large law firm with a salary easily over $150,000.  Along with that salary, serious sacrifices would follow – including long hours (12 hour days, 7 days a week at times), limited social life, limited family time, and stress.  The general idea was that the jobs would come easily and we would all graduate from law school with a plethora of opportunities to choose from, which would enable us to choose the best position for each one of us.

How did I begin to think that this was the norm?  For a few reasons, including based on advice that I received from co-workers at my internships and jobs, from family members who are in the legal field, and from networking.  In retrospect, it’s not clear that all of my pre-conceptions were realistic, even had the economy not turned for the worse.  And I have left out of this list school advisors; this is purposeful.  Even though I attended a large and amazing college in the tri-state area, I received minimal guidance from the law advisors about applying to law school, which ones to apply to, how to fill out my applications, the job market, and finding internships that might have improved my law school application.  I went to the pre-law advising office maybe two times out of the 4 years that I was in college: first, to find out about where to take the LSAT and second, to inquire about any legal internships that the career services office had and to receive some feedback on my résumé.  At least in my case—and maybe I should have pressed more than I did—they didn’t really know what opportunities were best for me, didn’t offer any concrete advice about where to look, and seemed unsure about whether I would be able to find an opportunity that I wanted.  And they were busy, too, and didn’t seem to have the time to get to know me in a way that would be really helpful.

Instead, I relied on myself to find opportunities and was driven and motivated to find something that would fit my needs and goals.  I also relied on family members and friends of family members for advice about where to look for jobs, internships, and what kinds of information to include in my law school application essays.

The most important advice that I received was while interning at a large law firm during the last years that I was in college.  My boss and the attorneys that arrived as first-year associates told me their perspective on what law schools were the best in the area, what to say on my application, and gave me tricks and tips that I could use while I was in law school.  The information from new associates was so important because it was coming from attorneys who had just been in my position three years before me.

Were I given a second chance to go through this process, I probably would go about things a little bit differently.  It would have been ideal to find someone who had a top-tier legal career with a longer-term experience and market perspective, had attended an elite law school and had knocked the stuffing out of the LSAT—and who would have taken the time to get to know me, my abilities and desires and to manage, just for me, all of the available information.  I didn’t have that but wish I would have.  Failing that, I would have tried to see a few of the career advisers in the pre-law department to gauge the different information that each one of them would have given me.  I would still ask my family and family friends for their advice.  I think that in the end, I still would be relying on my own intuition and efforts to achieve my goals, but I would try to better use the resources that were provided to me and would have tried to find a talented expert to advise me and coordinate the process and the other advice I received, instead of becoming frustrated with what I considered to be inadequate advice.

Keeping this information in mind, I hope that you all actively go out and try to find that one individual who will take the time to mentor you throughout the process.  Don’t get discouraged.  Work hard, use resources that you have in front of you and even those that you think might not be helpful.  Obtain as much information as you possibly can and then filter out from that what will serve your interests and goals the best.   

Until next time –

Ellen Branch

*Note from Advise-In Solutions:   Ellen Branch is not a current or former client of Advise-In Solutions.   At her request, we have changed Ellen’s name and not specifically identified the schools she attended (and will keep certain other identifying information non-specific).

~ by ellenbranch on July 2, 2010.

3 Responses to “A 2010 Graduate’s View of the Legal Employment Market: How I Landed Where I Am”

  1. […] In what capacity in government, and at which agencies?  Which law firms?  As what (remember Ellen Branch’s post, which told us that several of her classmates were employed at law firms as legal assistants, not […]

  2. […] law schools, and graduates of mid-tier law schools are among the hardest-hit in this recession, as Ellen Branch, a graduate of a similar school, has pointed out on this blog.  New Jersey is also near several […]

  3. […] hope that my last  post was helpful for those of you considering where to apply to law school during these changing and […]

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