He Advises Recent Law School Grads: Focus on the Bar Exam
NYT report says 55 percent of law school graduates in 2011 found law-related jobs nine months after graduation.
For hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts residents, July means trips to the beach, backyard barbeques and ballgames on the radio.
For several thousand recent law school graduates, however, these warm and humid days offer a last, desperate chance to prepare for the bar exam.
This year, the state bar exam will take place on July 25 and 26. The first day will test the candidates' knowledge of basic legal principles – contracts, Constitutional law, property and so forth. The second day will focus on Massachusetts law. A candidate must demonstrate a thorough knowledge of all these areas of law in order to pass the test.
Historically, over 75 percent of the candidates will pass the test. This means that sometime this fall, many thousand new attorneys will join the workforce.
The outlook for recent law graduates, unfortunately, is gloomy. According to an article in Sunday’s New York Times, only 55 percent of our nation's 43,735 law school graduates in 2011 had a law-related job nine months after graduation. For graduates of less prestigious law schools, the outlook is even worse. Some schools report post-graduation employment rates as low as 31 percent.
Law schools are feeling the pinch.
According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, law school applications are down 14 percent. This presents schools with a difficult choice – lower their admissions standards or cut class sizes.
Hard as this may be to believe, but just a couple generations ago there was a shortage of lawyers. Beginning around 1980, however, more and more college graduates sought to become attorneys.
Several factors contributed to the rise in law school attendance. Television programs and films made the legal profession seem glamorous. Shows like L.A. Law, The Practice and Boston Legal made law firms look like exciting places to work, while programs like Law and Order stimulated thousands of young people to pursue careers in criminal justice.
Meanwhile, starting salaries for highly sought-after law school graduates skyrocketed. Back in the day, a law school graduate joining even a prestigious New York firm would be lucky to earn more than $30,000. Today, big firm starting salaries in the $150,000 range are not unusual even in cities like St. Louis and Seattle.
In recent years, I have been privileged to meet many young law school graduates. Some, but not all, have struggled to find full-time work shortly after graduation. The good news is that all of them have, in time, landed challenging and rewarding positions.
If you are a recent law school graduate, focus first and foremost on passing the bar exam.
While many larger law firms will hire a recent law school graduate waiting for his or her test results, most smaller firms and companies want someone with a license in hand. Once the test is behind you, start networking immediately. Ask experienced attorneys in your area if you can come by for coffee or lunch. Ask your parents and older friends for names of business and legal professionals that might know attorneys and business people that can help. Set up a profile on LinkedIn, or one of the other professional networking web-sites, and start searching for opportunities.
Most important, do not be discouraged if the first job you get is less than glamorous. You never know where that first job may lead. For example, a few years ago I served as general counsel of a large company. We had an opening in the legal department. I was introduced to a young person that had graduated from a local law school. She was working part time in a real estate law firm in an unfulfilling job. I agreed to meet with her, and eventually offered her the chance to work with us as a full-time paralegal. The wages were not great, but she took the job and worked hard. Eventually, we promoted her to a full-time attorney position, where she excelled. Today, she works in a senior legal position with a large company in the Boston area.
So, if you are a recent law school graduate ignore the gloomy statistics. There is legal work out there waiting to be done. You must do all you can to find a position, and when you get one, whatever it is, prove to your supervising attorneys and clients that you can do the job.