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Stagnant legal market tough for recent law school grads

Avery Blank

Avery Blank

When most of the class of 2011 applied for law school, the legal market was booming.

But by the time they embarked on their legal education in the fall of 2008, it became abundantly clear that the economy had tanked, and law firms began cutting jobs left and right.

Since that time, more job opportunities have surfaced.

“It’s still not a strong market. Judging on results we’ve seen on surveys of firms on their hiring last fall there’s a slight uptick, but by slight I mean slight,” said Dana Morris, assistant dean for career development at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law.

But for many of the recent graduates of Maryland’s law school and the University of Baltimore School of Law, the market remains soft.

“When we applied, people said, ‘If you are in a certain percentage in your class, you will definitely get a job,’ but it was very clear one semester into law school that it was not going to happen that way,” said Edward “Ted” Reilly.

Reilly, who graduated from Maryland this month, is one of the lucky ones. He has a clerkship lined up with the Court of Special Appeals and will start as an associate at Whiteford, Taylor & Preston LLP in Virginia the following year.

But it seems students who didn’t get coveted spots in large and mid-sized firm summer programs or public interest offices during law school have had less luck landing jobs after graduation.

Avery Blank, another new Maryland graduate, had a variety of internships in law school — with the Baltimore City Council president in legislative affairs, the Maryland Commission for Women and the office of general counsel within the White House Office of Administration. But none of those experiences has translated into a job.

I would say many of my peers are very worried. I get a sense that they are somewhat in panic mode,” she said. “At times it can be frustrating, but I know it’s just a matter of time.

“Because of this economy it’s going to take a little longer than I had perhaps expected. I’m persistent and I know I’ll eventually get something,” Blank said. “It takes a lot of ‘no’s’ to get to one ‘yes.’”

Blank is confident, although she’s only started putting out feelers for jobs. Last week she began studying for the state bar exam and put her hunt on the “back burner.”

Blank said the state of the economy has challenged her to think about what she actually wants out of her legal degree. She said she might be interested in taking a job in public policy.

“It would not be traditionally legal, but absolutely the great thing about a [juris doctorate] is it doesn’t pigeon hole you to find a job as an attorney,” she said.

Blank echoed talking points from law schools across the country, which have been questioned about the employment statistics they keep on former students, including which jobs are legal, law-related and non-law-related.

The local law schools could not say how many recent alumni have jobs because they only publish those numbers nine months after students graduate.

Clerkships and networking

Both schools have pushed students to apply for judicial clerkships, which they say can open up doors for graduates after getting a good recommendation from a judge. But Morris said it’s a “judges’ market” right now, and getting a clerkship is not easy to do.

Justin E. Fine, a University of Baltimore graduate, has a clerkship lined up with Judge Glenn T. Harrell Jr. in the Court of Appeals, but no job waiting for him after that.

Fine said what he liked about taking a clerkship was the chance to serve the state at the highest level of the judiciary.

“The other thing that was nice was I knew it would be a year of postponing a job search,” he said. “I would be much more qualified as a former law clerk. It would be deferring the bad times and getting more experience. It was just a no-brainer in a lot of ways.”

Brendan Hodge, who graduated from Baltimore in December, also has a judicial clerkship beginning at the end of the summer. He passed the bar exam in February and started interviewing for summer positions at local law firms with no luck.

He said he expects most firms would be interested in hiring someone who can work past his August judicial clerkship start date.

In the meantime, he’s working at Grilled Cheese & Co. in Eldersburg to get some income, but he said he’s worried about what might happen after his clerkship.

“There aren’t many entry-level attorney positions available. Those positions that are open are flooded by recent grads,” he said in an email. “During my interviews at several locations, law school grads from D.C. as well as the surrounding states have applied.”

At one interview, a graduate from one of the law schools in the District told Hodge he had applied for clerkships at more than 40 courthouses from Virginia through Pennsylvania.

Hodge said recently he has started volunteering at public service organizations and going to networking events to make new contacts.

According to Astrid Schmidt, director of the law career development office at the University of Baltimore, “students hate the word ‘networking’,” so getting them out there is a challenge. She and Morris insist that networking is the way to get a job.

“With a newer generation of students, we’ve got to do more work because they’re not as inclined to be social. They’d rather text,” Morris said.

From the start, Reilly said the University of Maryland conditioned his class to be aggressive in seeking out internships, summer positions and jobs.

While many of his friends from law school have found work, he said some of the jobs may not meet their expectations.

“Most of my friends had jobs at least partway through this past semester, it was just a different job than they would have gotten in 2005,” Reilly said.

Keeping expectations in check is something that Schmidt said she tries to do.

“We work really hard to look at the big picture as to what they want to do down the road that they’re willing to do now to get there and explain to them that the job they get out of law school isn’t going to be your dream job, and that’s OK,” she said.

Standing out from the pack

Shashi Jairam

Some graduates, like Shashi Jairam, a 42-year-old former officer in the U.S. Air Force, are embarking on careers doing exactly what they set out to do. Jairam packed up his house last week for a move to Florida to work for the state’s attorney’s office in West Palm Beach.

Jairam started out in the evening program at Maryland in 2008 while he was finishing up his military career. He eventually transferred into the full-time program, finishing in three years by taking summer classes.

He said he worked in the state’s attorney’s office in Anne Arundel County to pave the way for the job in Florida, where he wanted to move because his brother, also a lawyer, lives there.

Jairam, who was very involved as a student, serving as class president for two years, said he knows his classmates are having a tough time finding jobs, but wonders if they would be better situated had they done more in school.

“I think people make the choice not to do moot court, not to do journal, not to do trial team and they do well in school, but then they wonder why they aren’t competitive,” he said. “It’s a bad market, but students need to do things to help separate themselves. Students who did do those things were able to find jobs.”

One student who was able to separate herself from the pack was Maggie Grace, a Maryland graduate who landed a clerkship with Judge Andre Davis in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Grace is something of an outlier, with two job offers at big law firms in Baltimore. She hasn’t decided which firm she’ll choose and does not want the firm names printed.

“I was lucky to get a job opportunity at a firm my first summer [of law school] when most people aren’t able to land a job at a firm,” she said.

Grace said she used connections with her professors for advice and letters of recommendation. She also has a brother and sister who are both lawyers at firms locally. Still, Grace said she knows how hard it has been for her classmates to land jobs.

“Some people do have jobs, but by and large most people who didn’t go through summer recruitment found jobs a lot later,” she said. “I have friends who have found jobs in the last few months, which is very unsettling in your third year. Even still I know people who don’t have jobs.”

But not all students have time to get involved in extra activities that can help them stand out. Evening students, like Moshe Glickman, a 30-year-old father of five, don’t have the luxury of internships and law review because they are also working full time.

Glickman has a job as an IT professional for the federal government, but he would like to use his law degree.

He was volunteering a bit with some local attorneys, but now he said he has to “push off the practical experience” and study for the bar exam so he will be able to practice law.

Glickman just started a serious job search, but he has certain parameters that other grads might not have — he needs to be able to support a family of seven.

“I’m kind of in the desperation state where it’s got to be something legal and [enough money so] I can help support my family.”