Tough Market for Law School Grads

"When I found out about the deferral program, I decided to spend the year doing self-enrichment activities, like taking art classes and volunteering for a nonprofit," said Banks, 27. "I'm going to be a lawyer for the next 20, 30 or 40 years of my life, so I'm glad to have this year to sort of recharge my life. I can't say I'm happy for the reasons this has happened, though."

At Penn State's law school, about 13 students out of the 210 that made up the school's spring 2009 graduating class have seen their jobs deferred for up to a year.

"The significantly reduced hiring rates for current 2Ls and 3Ls may accelerate the deferral bubble through the system, but at this generation of law students' expense, unfortunately," Montoya said.

Despite the diminishing number of summer associate and entry-level positions, many undergraduate students are applying to law schools, or other graduate school programs, to ride out the recession.

"It's a general truth that when the economy tanks, everyone goes back to school," Banks said. "Even though there aren't any jobs in law, people are still applying to law school. Obviously, everyone's hoping that when they get out, [the economy] will have improved."

Patricia White, dean of the University of Miami School of Law, advised prospective students not to "look to law school as a safe harbor" to wait out the economic storm, and even offered incentives to students willing to defer admission for a year.

Another law school, Southwestern Law in Los Angeles, is being up front about salary prospects. Bryant Garth, Southwestern's dean, tells students that they're in for a huge disappointment if they counted on starting salaries of $160,000 per year.

Now's the Time for Law Students to Be Creative

This is a surprise to some because there has been an underlying assumption for decades that if you obtain a high GPA at an elite school, you will be able to find a high-paying job at a big law firm.

Instead, some graduates are now struggling to find jobs and pay off their debt of more than $200,000, in some cases, from law school.

In a recent blog posted on the Veritas Prep Web site, a company that offers graduate school application services, the director of admissions consulting emphasized that law school is not a panacea.

Lawyers who want to work in highly coveted positions are going to have to hustle; perhaps spending summers working for free. Hoff also advised students to put cost first and foremost atop the list of criteria that they evaluate in selecting a law school.

In response to the tough job market and debt load taken on by law students, some recent graduates are considering alternative ways to find jobs.

Ian Pittman, a 26-year-old from Caskerville, Texas, and Leigh Jorgeson, a 25-year-old from Austin, Texas, started their own law firm after graduating from the University of Texas in May.

Jorgeson aspired to land a job with a large Dallas firm. But, months before graduation, her high-paying job offer was revoked.

Pittman had initially hoped to find a job at a small family firm. Then he interned for a solo-practicing family law attorney the summer before graduation and considered making it on his own.

With Jorgeson out of a job, the idea of starting his own firm became a reality for both of them.

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