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November 11th, 2009
05:45 AM ET

Lawyers not immune from recession woes

By Nailah Ellis Timberlake

When Corinne Rivers graduated from college and got a full scholarship to law school, she thought she had it made. "I graduated debt free," she said. "Who could ask for anything else?"

Little did Corinne know that she she'd eventually have to ask for help finding a job.

In 2008, Corinne graduated from Rutgers School of Law, passed the Bar Exam and was sworn in as an attorney in both New Jersey and New York. Corinne immediately began looking for jobs in litigation, but came up empty. "Being unemployed has affected my ego a bit," she said. "No one expects someone with two degrees not to find employment."

Especially someone like Corinne. In law school, she was the was associate editor and research editor for the Rutgers Race Law Review. After graduation, she served for a year as a judicial law clerk for the now retired New Jersey Superior Court Judge Frances L. Antonin. "Career services at the law school referred me to their online site for job listings. They never prepared me to deal with a job search in a tough economic environment," she said.

She's not the only lawyer looking for a job and many experts believe this is as bad as it's ever been for attorneys looking for work. According to the National Law Journal's annual survey of the nation's 250 largest law firms, the number of attorneys in the private sector dropped 4% in 2009 – only the third time the lawyer count has dropped since 1978. "It shows the impact of the recession and how business is down for law firms," says the Journal's associate editor, Leigh Jones.

Corinne has met a lot of other attorneys who can't find work. Some have just finished law school like herself, and others were laid off after years of lawyering. "I'm not deterred by other attorneys' unemployment. I feel like I have a good networking base," she said.

As a new grad, Corinne's options have been limited. "Entry level hiring has been tough in every sector," says Jim Leipold, executive director of the National Association for Law Placement. "We've seen law firms bringing in smaller groups, reducing recruitment efforts, delaying start dates and dropping starting salaries." Leipold said, adding he does not expect things to get much better for a couple of years.

"Signs of recovery are starting to happen but don't expect the legal hiring for new law school grads to get better anytime soon," he said. "...at least not in 2010. It'll be 2011 or 2012 before we see a stronger entry level employment market."

Since Corinne graduated from Rutgers without any financial obligations or loan debt she's had less stress than many people who are jobless. "It's been a benefit to me in this economy because I'm not forced to take just any job to pay off my loans. In the meantime, Corinne is in a three-month volunteer associates program working 20 hours a week in the New Jersey Attorney General's office, helping lawyers with their case loads.

"It's been interesting. It's a completely different area of law that I haven't come across before. I'm all about diversifying my legal background while I look for a permanent position."

Legal Coach and Consultant, Ed Poll predicts that more and more new grads are going to explore options that they hadn't considered while obtaining their legal degree. "We're going to see more new graduates starting their own practice or opening a business unrelated to law and they'll and use their legal background to be more effective in running the businesses that they start," he said. "That way their legal education is not wasted, its just not being utilized in the way they initially anticipated."

Corinne refuses to get discouraged and maintains a positive outlook on the situation. "People have told me to enjoy not having a job right now because once I find something I'll be working all of the time," she said with a chuckle.


Filed under: Economy
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Julie

    What has been destroying America is lawyers, we are bleeding because of deciet and frivilous law suits. Last frivilous one was where some mom got a bunch of money because her son was hit in the head with an aluminum bat. Sports are dangerous. Sorry, for the mom but, as even I myself when my children engaged in sports, I knew that they could be damaged or die. Risks we all take.
    If people smoke, eat greasy fast food, they take the risk. Not the lawyers who preditate that these are someone else's fault. When you have elective surgery, things are held to sometimes disasters mistakes. Many take the chances. Every thing is risky. Marriage, divorce, shopping, everything.
    Living is a risk, just some dang lawyers intertwine the dilema that it is someone else fault so they can make a buck. Sometimes more bucks that anyone could ever imagine.
    I still love Shakespear's line. "First kill all the lawyers...."

    November 12, 2009 at 7:30 am |
  2. Mitchell

    I really feel sad for all the unemployed lawyers with no one to sue.

    November 11, 2009 at 5:56 pm |