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February 05, 2008

Fewer Law Firm Options for New Grads? Who'd Have Thought It?

This title is provocative from the New York Lawyer but the information is just not new:

In this reprinted article, it give examples of law school graduates taking non-traditional law jobs because they have to as legal jobs are drying up.

Some experts disagree, but Jeffrey Brand, dean of the University of San Francisco School of Law, says Luros' experience may be the start of a bigger trend—at least for students graduating from law schools that aren't among the nation's most elite. Because of economic factors, he says, a number of law firms are scaling back job offers to new graduates.

Alumni report that even large national firms increasingly are looking to hire experienced attorneys, rather than new graduates, either as lateral associates or on a contract basis, Brand says. "There are fewer associate positions for recent graduates. It's going to require them to be more resourceful in figuring out what they're going to do."

Again, I have to make my argument, if law schools don't teach law students how to be entrepreneurs they are guilty of educational malpractice.  Failure to expose students to entrepreneurship and then train them for this very important option available with their legal license, regardless the school, leaves the majority with incredible debt and forced to consider not practicing law.  But that doesn't mean they are unqualified to open their own practice; it just means it presents additional challenges which could have and should have been addressed during their legal training.  To prepare them only for employment when employment options are both changing and dwindling at the same time is just flat out wrong.

Then when others in the profession say, "get a law job first before starting out on your own to get some training, knock down your debt, learn on another's dime' you have to wonder if they are considering this advice makes it seem even more impossible for new lawyers to accomplish anything.

The conversation goes something like this:

New Law Student:    I want to go solo.

Advisor:                  But you don't know anything.

New Law StudentBut I can't get a legal job.

Advisor:                  Well, at least go work for a law firm first to get some experience.  Then go out on your own.  Pay down some debt.  Learn on another's dime.

New Law Student:   That's a great idea.  But did you hear me.  I can't get a legal job.

Advisor:                  Oh?  Well, it sucks being you.

What do you think?


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Grant D. Griiffiths

And since law schools are doing a disservice and dropping the ball, that is why your blog and the services you provide are so important. Keep fighting the fight Susan.

Chris Moander

I agree with both Grant and Susan. My alma mater offers a class on operating a law firm which is taught by the legal counsel for the school (a man with a substantial reputation in the geographical area as he built his own highly successful firm). Sadly, I did not take it at the time, but I think it's a revolutionary idea. I've found that the information distributed in the course proves useful every single day.

In part because I had friends take this class, I consult that professor as he loves to help folks hang a shingle.



There are some new grads who go solo and make it work, but I don't think it's a good plan for most. There's too much risk in it, financial and otherwise, to take on while you are in such a precarious position, financial and otherwise. Encouraging students to stabilize their lives seems better advice -- if only there were some tangible thoughts on how...

Stephanie Kimbro

Law schools should also not expect for their law students to get the necessary practical experience working as an associate in a law firm. Paralegals in most firms handle the work that solos end up having to do (or wanting to do) for themselves.

As an associate new attorneys don't always get the training they need to go out on their own. My law school is one of a group of law schools nationwide that are reevaluating how they provide real-world training for their students. An article on the project is here: http://www.law.com/jsp/law/careercenter/lawArticleCareerCenter.jsp?id=1193648627881
It's a start anyway.

My thanks to Susan for writing this informative and motivational blog.


Let's see, we have associates in D.C. getting over $100K in bonuses, yet for far too many people basic legal needs are not met. At the same time state's efforts to provide legal assistance to the poor are underfunded.

How about a Robinhood solution - tax lawyers who do not perform pro-bono services, put the money into a fund that can provides legal services to those who can't afford it.

This provides jobs, and increases access to justice.


I think we should let it go. Eventually, there will be a public perception that law school doesn't pay, that law schools inflate expectations, that the few high-paying opportunities are for people who are "traditional" and I mean TRADITIONAL--not just people who went straight out of law school, that Indians do all the grunt work, and that law school is really something that you do if you can afford to do it, in order to obtain a title of sorts..but that it isn't about earning a living.

The real question is why are people screaming so much about this? People are upset that the pie is being gobbled up by a few exceptionally greedy and nasty people? Since when is this news? It seems to me that there are a lot of us out there who would gladly step into the shoes of BigLaw...IF we had the chance..AND, we would LIVE in the office for the opportunity to get the chance.

But, we need to let it go. The fact that we may have been duped into an educational track that proved to be not worth the effort in terms of jobs...Well, how many emails do you get about how YOU can have a great life by going to ONLINE U to get a certificate in this, that, or the other blue collar occupation? Everyone gets this pitch, although where one is on the proverbial ladder sort of makes one more or less susceptible to ONLINE U or Brand New Law School. The truth is that we all just want what we perceive to be...a chance to live the life that we dream, the life that we imagine...That's the thing that causes that woman at Wendy's to say..I am going to school online to become a police officer...OR, the kid from State U who is tired of being a receptionist to say...I am going to law school. Dreams people. This is what this is all about---Dreams.

And, what our society might need to ask...is what happens when enough people try...and have shattered dreams...and ruin their lives financially and otherwise...in pursuit of an illusion...that was allowed to be put forth as reaasonably attainable...ETC.

Susan, I love you and what you do. BUT, the problem is that most people who go to law school do NOT go to law school because their DREAM is to be an entrepreneur. You don't need a law degree to be an entrepreneur. Most people go to law school because they want a high-paying job and this is the only way that they can see having a SHOT at getting it.

The focus needs to be informing the general public that law school is NOT that SHOT.

AND as for people like your hypothetical "Advisor," they are the PROBLEM and NOT any solution. People like that, some of which find their way into these discussions and EVEN compete with you to do what you do....well, they are ridiculous. It is downright ridiculous to keep hammering at people..Go get some experience learning at the feet of a famous attorney..THEN go on your own. These people do NOT get it. People are not contemplating solo practices vs. a position as an associate at Skadden when they first get out! People are contemplating...well, I have this license to sell legal services...or I guess I could go get an insurance license and call myself a financial advisor. Either way, I have no salary. So, such "Advisors" need to be put out to pasture as such because they clearly lack even the most basic sense of logic if they can't figure out how ridiculous AND rude that they sound, telling someone to chase a phantom of a "job" while their legal skills dull, bankruptcy looms, family plans get put on hold, etc.

Either way, let it go. I would say that we should ignore such "Advisors" and just let them talk to that very small group of attorneys that have the benefit of "traditional" options. But, we need to tell people when to get off the list serve, when to put down the phone, when to say NO, I will NOT buy this book, etc. Just let it go that you got duped. And THEN you can move toward a position of empowerment.

Susan Cartier Liebel


I read, then reread, then reread yet again what you wrote. Bravo!

It is all about looking at your situation, however which way you got there and saying, "I choose to empower myself."

It is all about self-empowerment.



I must admit that I posted that as a bit of a challenge--can we take it? Apparently, you got it.

The essence of empowerment requires a reclamation of sorts--I reclaim my power that I have given over to YOU. Part of this problem is this--the majority of attorneys are non-BigLaw. Am I correct? If this is true, then WHY does BigLaw dominate the conversation?

WHY? SIMPLE. Because we either hand that over to them or can't stop wanting to be them. This needs to stop. BigLaw can continue to be whatever it is that they may be. But, being the voice AND the fox guarding the hen house of our profession must stop--IF we are ever to get this profession back on track.

I believe it was E. Roosevelt who stated that nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent. THIS is the problem. See, I think this problem comes from the fact that in focusing on what people EARN as a result of a law degree, WE ought to focus on what people DO, as attorneys STILL have the ability to shape, influence, and even engineer society and social outcomes.

Now, whose fault is this really? Law schools? BigLaw? The law student/new graduate? I would assert that if the legal profession is "broken" it is the fault of those in it. WE can take back the conversation and make it about the majority of attorneys--non-BigLaw folks who influence and shape society in a positive way (some way other than defending corporate criminals), and who also enjoy a comfortable living while raising our families, empowering peopl, etc.

BUT, not until we respect OURSELVES as the REAL embodiment of the legal profession can we do this. Now, the problem is that people want to be BigLaw either because they want prestige, power, access, MONEY...OR because they ACCEPT the idea that anything other than BigLaw is "lesser." Either view accepts the same thing--that the only route to that sort of life as an attorney is via BigLaw. Newsflash: BigLaw is not the only way to earn a healthy six-figure income as an attorney. Another newsflash: People still respect the legacy of Thurgood Marshall...perhaps MORE than they ever will a John Roberts.

Let those who live in BigLaw Land and those who leased but failed to meet the requirements to OWN in BigLaw Land amuse themselves WITH themselves. Turn your back to them in an effort to FIRST be able to look at yourself--the REAL thing of value in this conversation. That's the first step. The second step is to reclaim who you are and embrace that. This is the hard part because it involves VALUES. No, you don't have to starve or be broke, or for that matter...let me put it in a positive...YES, YOU CAN earn 6 figures within a couple of years out of law school WITHOUT being a BigLaw associate, without having a rich daddy, without even being white and male. But, what you can't be about is worshipping BigLaw and others in certain positions who want to brand you as "damaged goods" or "lesser than."

What one must be is what this profession SHOULD be about--being ONE voice willing to step forward and FIRST, lead myself (i.e., stand on my own two feet without the benefit of a "traditional" employer); SECOND, provide service to others that I may EARN the privilege...to LEAD in my community.

But, nobody can do any of that with her head bowed because BigLaw tries to "pee" on her and BigLaw divorcees, still longing for the good old days, assert that such a marriage is a rite of passage toward "adult attorney" status.

And, when I say.."get off the listserve.." What I mean is this---everyone isn't good for you, especially not when their words and actions are all about belittling you or "your kind". I get my ABA emails...and but for the occasional, annual acknowledgment of "million dollar solo's" OR mention of law student unemployment etc...it is pretyt much about BigLaw. Yet, BigLaw is the smaller portion of the profession.

This strikes me as a terrible irony---attorneys, those empowered to speak for others, clearly can't even speak for themselves.

So, in closing, I believe it was Sally Field who stated...It took a long time not to judge myself through someone else's eyes. And, I would assert that when we stop doing that...judging ourselves through BigLaw's eyes...and when we start stepping forward as the bulk of the profession...and we start voting OURSELVES to key ABA leadership positions...THEN perhaps the profession's image will reflect the profession..and perhaps students who genuinely WANT to join our ranks--the ranks of MOST of us rather than a sliver of a minority--THEN this matter of law students going into crazy debt and not getting jobs and law students not being entrepreneurial, etc. will not be an issue. We will attract those who truly want to be one of US...and not those merely enticed by the promise of almighty "BigLaw."


The job market is not good for most lawyer-employees, especially at the entry level. It's interesting. Law school prestige and grades dictate the odds of getting a job. I thought that was hot air at first but it's disconcerting how elitist our profession can be. Credentials are evaluated to extremes.

Well, I did my homework before attending law school and I was unaware that the profession has faced this under-employment problem for years.

There are old newspaper articles in the early 20th century talking about the abundance of lawyers. In retrospect, it was my fault for not being aware of this issue because I did not check the sources of legal employment news. Staffing agencies use large firm news to give people a false sense of the realities of the legal job market. It doesn't help that law schools and law school publications can be misleading if one doesn't know how to read between the lines.

I went to law school for a number of reasons. One was to help people. Another reason was to gain skills to work independently. I am looking forward to operating my own office and proving that I do have good business skills. I just figured there would be more mentorship. I have turned down jobs because there was no structure for training, specialization or my heart just wasn't into the area of law offered.

I don't necessarily agree that working for someone else is necessarily beneficial from a learning standpoint. It seems like a lot of attorneys just don't have the interest, patience or time to train an associate. I suppose it's good to work for someone else to save money and gain access to another's resources. That's if you even get permission or time to use the resources for cases that you enjoy. Also, that is assuming the employer even gives you a reasonable salary and benefits without imposing administrative duties on you. Some of these firms have the nerve to expect new lawyers to work for less than a paralegal but expect them to do lawyer and paralegal work.

The bottom line is I understand the reality of the job market and I look forward to being an entrepreneur. I will be successful because I define success without using material benchmarks.

I don't know how long success will take. I suppose success is being the go to person in town for my practice area or just being respected for dealing with others fairly. That will take time. The good thing is I enjoy the law and learning. I always figured that if I did what I enjoyed and I did it well then the money would just follow.

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