Tough Market for Law School Grads

"The idea of opening our own law firm appeals to us more than working for someone else," Pittman said. "Across the board, people were pretty supportive of our decision. One of my close friends tried to talk me out of it because he thought it was too big of a risk, but there's risk in starting any business."

Focusing on family law and estate planning, the two plan to expand their firm during the next year.

As with Pittman and Jorgeson, a growing number of students is seeking alternatives, such as firms in smaller markets, opportunities in government and jobs with public interest groups. Melissa Lennon, dean for career planning at Temple University's Beasley School of Law in Philadelphia, said that 38 percent of the 2008 graduates went into the public sector.

In an effort to cope with the job market and prepare students for any job opportunities, law schools are training their students for different working environments and coming up with programs that aid in the job search.

High GPA Doesn't Equal Success

In the summer of 2008, the University of Texas introduced its Career Launch Program, which is offered to students who are not employed at the time of the bar examination. The program places students as interns in governmental and public interest law offices, receiving a $6,000 stipend, for the period between the bar exam in August and the announcement of the exam results in November.

"The program has been quite successful," Texas' Montoya said. "Last year, almost half of the students were hired by the employer with whom they were placed in as interns. Almost all of the remaining students, bolstered by their experience and resulting recommendations, found good jobs."

N.Y.U. also provided additional resources to students, as it claims to be the first law school in the country to host a career fair for deferred students and furloughed alumni. Fifty employers, including nonprofits and city and federal agencies, took part in the job fair in April, Dorzback said.

As for what law students should expect in the future, Montoya said the verdict is still out as to whether the economic downturn will last long enough to result in quick and radical changes to the large-firm hiring model.

Either way, students will need to look beyond their immediate needs, according to an article in last month's National Law Journal.

"We will keep reminding our students to take the long view," wrote William Chamberlain, assistant dean for law career strategy and advancement at Northwestern University School of Law. "We try to convince them that they will be fine. As always, we career counselors are here to listen and to help them build their job search plans.

"Despite what on-campus interviews emphasize, high GPA and success in practicing law are not correlated. In many ways, the current law firm model has proved unequal to the challenges posed by the economy. Perhaps out of the general uncertainty there will grow a better and stronger legal community where its members will be happier."

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ABCNews.com contributor Emily Watkins is part of the University of Texas-Austin ABC News on Campus program.
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