Every year newly finished college graduates head straight to law school hoping that another degree in law will help them to land a good job. This is becoming more and more of a bad idea.
In hiring most entry-level lawyers, the law firms and companies are favoring those candidates who have actually worked somewhere. It’s a big change in the legal world–which once favored those intellectual bona fides over hours logged over at the office. It’s just one more example of how the recession has impacted even the country’s most privileged: Young college graduates from the top universities who thought that they were doing every single thing right, getting into the law schools with the best reputations and positioning themselves for a high-paying job out in the legal world.
”What am I supposed to put in a cover letter? That I have been in school?” says Samantha Walls in a recent phone interview. Walls went straight from college at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, to the law school at Georgetown. She finished last spring and is still out trying to get a job.
”Of everyone I know from Georgetown who has one the [law] firm jobs you need to pay off law school loans, all but two had work experience between undergrad and law school,” Walls said, who also finished in the middle of her class. ”You are competing with all the laid off lawyers and graduates from the last few school classes who can’t find work. I can’t compare to someone who has worked at a bank and knows about financial transactions and can start making a firm money right away.”
While no one is tracking the employment rates for lawyers with some professional experience, interviews with more than 30 law professors, admissions officers, law students, recent graduates and hiring partners at law firms confirm that professional experience has grown more important in this disintegrating economy. In many of the cases, work experience functions as a tiebreaker in a toss-up between two otherwise equally qualified candidates. Many of the young lawyers that had previously gone directly from law school are now regretting their hurried decision.
With all of the unemployment rates at a record high, even for the lawyers–68.4 percent of graduates from the national law school class of 2010 are employed in jobs that require a doctorate decree in law, just a drop of 8 percentage points from the class of 2007–college graduates without any experience out there in the real world need to think carefully about heading straight to law school.
”There is no doubt that this is a buyer’s market for hiring,” says Kevyn Orr, who is a partner in the Washington, D.C. office of a top-tier law firm Jones Day in a phone interview. ”And so in a more competitive market, we will look at the experience more now than in the past. For a candidate on the margin, yes, it can make a big difference. But it’s currently hard to quantify.”