Law jobs are hard to find and harder for recent law graduates that lack practical experience. The sluggish economy over the past few years has resulted in the lowest overall employment rate for new law graduates since 1994. Recent graduates and young lawyers are turning to non-law-related careers until they get their foot in the door. Some are hanging out their shingle straight out of law school, while others perform document review through temp agencies.
This very topic came up in March 2011 during the Maryland State Bar Association Planning Committee Retreat, an event held roughly every five years, in a program called “Attorney 101: Helping New Attorneys with their Careers.” (Full disclosure: I was a part of the retreat and am the co-chair of the committee for this bar year.)
The focus was simple: what can the MSBA, law schools and financial entities do to assist new attorneys that face huge debts and few career options? The recommendations included created a job bank, holding a new admittees conference, and seeking loan forgiveness for attorneys in certain circumstances. A full report is available on the MSBA website.
I was recently discussing this topic with others at a restaurant. A variety of ideas were thrown out, including some already considered (i.e. meeting with the deans of the local law schools) and new ones. In this somewhat loud exchange, our server chimed in.
“I’m a recent graduate from law school,” she said. “I graduated top of my class and I spend all day doing document review and wait tables at night, when I can get shifts.”
We started asking her a series of questions, including “How can the MSBA help with this issue?”, “What problems are you facing in the job market?” and “What is the biggest hurdle to finding a legal related job?” It was very much an interrogation, but one that was helpful in many ways.
First, we learned we need to hear from those affected by the problem to find viable solutions. Maybe focus groups of recently unemployed young attorneys will help develop solutions to the problem. Maybe writing a blog and asking readers to share their ideas would help (hint, hint). If you have a suggestion or comment, please share.
Second, we learned that there are a number of opportunities that people do not know about. For example, the MSBA Young Lawyers Section, in conjunction with the Pro Bono Resource Center, is hosting its 1st Annual Pro Bono Connection on Sept. 20 to connect law students and lawyers with pro bono opportunities. This would be a way for young lawyers to get practical experience (with guidance).
For those who have decided to hang out their shingle, the Solo and Small Firm Conference is scheduled for November. It’s a great resource to ensure the development of a successful practice both from a practical and a business standpoint.
Third, find practical experience, so when asked at an interview, you can share with your future employer. Lastly, networking is key, especially for a young lawyer. Jobs are scarce. It helps to know someone that is on the hiring committee, someone that knows someone on the hiring committee, or merely having someone to vouch for you.
The waitress/recent law graduate ended up with a half-dozen business cards after our meeting. She followed up the next day. I am certain she will find the legal job she is looking for in the near future.