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Law grads face job market challenges

Figures released by the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) in early June paint a disappointing picture for recent law school graduate job placement.

The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit law school graduate career planning and development firm did find 87.4 percent of 2010 law school graduates found jobs within nine months of graduating. However, only 68.4 percent of those jobs required bar association admittance — the lowest figure the NALP has reported since its inception in 1971.

The NALP Employment Report and Salary Survey for the class of 2010 said the job market data for law school graduates “reveal a job market with many underlying structural weaknesses.”

The study found barely half of law school graduates found a job in private practice and most went to smaller law firms. A total of 11 percent of those who found jobs were part-time, and 23 percent of those who found jobs were still looking for a job.

“There is likely more bad news to come,” NALP Executive Director James Leipold said  in a statement accompanying the study results. “[W]e can expect that the overall employment rate for new law school graduates will continue to be stagnant or decline further for the class of 2011, with the curve probably not trending upward before the employment statistics become available for the class of 2012.” 

Placement firms in Rochester generally reported similar results in hiring rates for law school graduates and even attorneys with some experience. Partner-level and specialized practice area attorneys could expect to find jobs more easily.

Jarie Doberstein of Bailey Personnel in Rochester said she’s seen an increase in resumes from new law school graduates, but they’re facing hiring freezes at many local firms and a lot of competition for the scarce openings that do occur. Doberstein said firms are very selective and want candidates who’ve graduated in the top 10 percent of their class. 

“This leaves candidates with average grades at a loss — jobless with no prospects,” she said.

Attorney job seekers may still find success in areas such as insurance litigation and foreclosure, areas Doberstein said are booming right now.

“I do feel that the Rochester job market may have fared better than most large cities,” she said. “I have seen many new firms form and begin practice locally in Rochester.”

Jennifer McCall of McCall Staffing said there are “a ton of top notch people” in Rochester but firms are tightening their belt.

“There’s definitely been a slow down in hiring,” she said. “We’re a bit behind the eight ball here even compared to cities of the same size.”

McCall said the hiring and use of contract attorneys at firms is increasing to cope with the immense paperwork litigation cases present. A new trend is for firms to hire a “second tier of non-partner-track attorneys to do busy work and folks are more than willing to do that as a springboard to go to another firm,” she explained.

Firms can bill the contract attorneys out at a lower hourly rate to help alleviate client concerns over high attorney fees.

At Bowman Personnel, Jeanne Bowman said legal support staff hiring, which constitutes the bulk of her legal hiring, has remained steady but as for attorney placement, “[t]here hasn’t been a lot going on.”

NALP will issue a report on recent law school graduate salaries in August. Leipold said he expects salaries to be down. One bright spot the study identified is the number of graduates hired but given deferred start times by law firms, decreased considerably.  

The NALP study is available online at www.nalp.org.