Tough Market for Law School Grads

For the first time in decades, the promise of a profitable law career for top students is uncertain, as law schools report significantly reduced hiring rates.

The shrinking job market results from two years of financial insecurity, which is beginning to affect the way firms operate, recruit and hire.

"There is no ducking the fact that the students who walked across the stage in this year's Sunflower Ceremony are having more trouble finding good jobs," Larry Sager, dean of the University of Texas law school, wrote in a recent online message to alumni. "And internships for our 1Ls and 2Ls [first years and second years] are becoming scarcer."

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Law schools across the country are seeing a reduction in the number of firms participating in the recruitment process. Harvard Law School reported a 20 percent reduction in the number of employers participating in recruitment, according to assistant dean for career services Mark Weber, while New York University, Georgetown and Northwestern reported on their Web sites that on-campus interviews are down by a third to a half when compared with recent years.

The University of Texas at Austin experienced a 45 percent decrease in on-campus interviews and seven of Texas' nine American Bar Association-accredited law schools have said fewer employers will visit their campuses this year.

"By mid-summer, employer participation levels had eroded.," David Montoya, UT's assistant dean for career services, said at a recent round-table discussion hosted by the Association for Legal Career Professionals. "It was not so much a matter of firms canceling, but rather most firms scaling back the amount of recruiting they wanted to do on campus.

"What became clear was that law firms were consolidating and centralizing the recruiting in a way they haven't done before. It seems they were coordinating among offices more to reduce the number of personnel they would have to send to campuses. Clearly, they were recruiting in much smaller numbers and for much smaller numbers of candidates as well."

The decrease in recruiting on college campuses has resulted in fewer summer associate programs for 2Ls and entry-level jobs for 3Ls.

Dozens of firms cut their summer associate programs earlier this spring, some by 30 to 50 percent, according to the National Association of Law Placement. As a group, the largest law firms in Texas that hired summer help took on 27 percent fewer associates than they did last year -- 683 compared with 930 in summer 2008, according to Texas Lawyer, publication for the Texas legal community.

Job Deferrals Common for Law Student Grads

Montoya said many 3Ls who were able to land an entry-level job at a large law firm, later had their job offers deferred or revoked.Those in Texas typically have deferrals of only a few months, while the graduates joining national firms outside of Texas, especially in New York and California, are experiencing year-long deferrals, according to Montoya.

At New York University, 140 3Ls faced a one-year deferral and a number of others have been asked to defer until January 2010, said Irene Dorzback, assistant dean of career services.

Jason Banks, who graduated from N.Y.U. law school in May, received a job offer from Shearman & Sterling early last year. But the firm said in March that it is deferring jobs until 2010.

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