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When last year’s law school graduates entered (and current 3Ls applied to) law school, it was a decidedly different economic climate. Prospects of finding a post-graduate job appeared bright. Times have certainly changed. The economy is far from booming, and job prospects are somewhat dimmer than in 1999. The unemployment rate among law graduates has risen slightly for the second consecutive year, to 11 percent; however, graduating students face a better market today than their counterparts did seven or eight years ago, when unemployment for new lawyers hit 15 to 16 percent. Until the general economy improves, the legal employment market will remain challenging. It’s no wonder law students and recent graduates are on edge about getting their first job. Kristen McManus, director of legal career services at Catholic University Columbus School of Law, notes that “students certainly are anxious about the job market, and it seems to manifest itself in two ways: [there are] the students who are more proactive as a result, and [there are] students who become more passive because they feel the situation is somewhat hopeless.” In several important ways, however, the legal market has fared better than other sectors during this extended economic downturn. In fact, recent law school graduates and current 3Ls actually have reason to be hopeful in the face of nagging employment questions. Current data reveal that if — and it’s a big if — students and grads are prepared to be flexible, opportunistic, and committed in their job search, they can and do find jobs. In the National Association for Law Placement’s annual “Jobs & J.D.’s” research study, the most comprehensive look at post-graduate employment for law students, more than 91 percent of the class of 2002 reported their employment status for this year’s report. Here’s what the numbers said: � Nine months after graduation, 89 percent of the class of 2002 were employed as of Feb. 15 this year (this figure includes employment of all types). � About 70 percent of employment offers were received prior to graduation. � One out of five students found his or her job through “self-initiated contact.” � About one in four found work in public service positions (government, clerkships, and public interest). � More than half of last year’s graduating class obtained jobs in private practice. Notwithstanding the declining market, the employment rate for new law grads has remained relatively strong, standing at or above the 89 percent mark for the last five years. The slight declines for the classes of 2001 and 2002 represent only the second consecutive decline in the past 10 years. WHERE ARE THEY NOW? So, there are indeed jobs out there. The question is, where are these students and grads finding jobs? Again, the data are instructive. Even at a time of hiring freezes and shrinking budgets, law grads are still finding work in the traditional legal employment sectors. As noted above, 25 percent of the class of 2002 assumed public service positions (government jobs, judicial clerkships, and public interest positions); 11 percent entered business and industry, roughly double the rate recorded in the halcyon big-business days, in the late 1980s; and nearly 60 percent entered private practice in law firms of all sizes. A notable number of graduates also reported a wide range of “alternative,” law-related work in positions such as state auditor, consumer safety officer, fraud analyst, law enforcement personnel, regulatory compliance analyst, and patent examiner. Laurel Hajek, assistant dean and director of career services at the University of Dayton School of Law, notes, “Today’s market rewards students who are willing to look beyond firm opportunities and consider applying their skill sets in the marketplace. … Jobs that used to be overlooked — consultant, HR specialist, mediator, financial planner — are increasingly seen by students and graduates as new and challenging ways to utilize their legal training.” Another frequent question from new graduates and students eagerly seeking that first job is: When will the job offer come? Students should be heartened to learn that 70 percent of the class of 2002 received offers of employment before graduation. Students who are hired by large law firms or judges more often than not receive their offers in late summer (if they participated in the firm’s summer program) and throughout the fall interviewing season. Larger federal departments and agencies often hire through late fall. Other government employers, public interest organizations, and small law firms do a substantial portion of their hiring in the spring, and many of these employers often wait until after graduation or after the release of bar results before interviewing candidates or extending offers. Many law students incorrectly believe that if you can’t find a job through fall on-campus interviewing, your chances for gainful and satisfying employment are hopeless. No doubt, fall interviewing is often featured prominently on law school calendars, and many students (just over 25 percent of the class of 2002) find their jobs that way. Yet nearly twice as many last year found their jobs through self-initiated contact, a referral, or a job listing. “Only a portion of jobs are obtained through [fall] OCI,” agrees Bill Chamberlain, assistant dean for career services at the University of North Carolina School of Law. “A career services office provides many job search strategies and opportunities beyond OCI, such as small-firm job fairs, networking programs, and educating students about the need to do their research before they apply for any job.” PROFESSIONAL ADVICE Other career services professionals also report a number of telling employment trends, and offer good advice to students and recent graduates as they search for a job. Here’s some of what they have to say: � A tough market is not necessarily a bad thing. Traci Mundy Jenkins, director of Career Services at American University Washington College of Law, says that in today’s tighter market “students are working harder, but they are also working smarter.” And Betsy Armour, director of Boston University School of Law’s career development office, suggests, “The tougher market has had some benefits. It forces people to be more creative and flexible, to develop job search skills, and to be market savvy. This can ultimately result in a better job choice.” � Start early and apply broadly. This is “our mantra for the legal job search, in good times and bad,” says Victoria Huber, assistant dean for career development and alumni services at George Mason University Law School. She adds that students need to begin networking and researching earlier and consider a wider variety of traditional and nontraditional positions. � Nothing comes easy — flexibility is a must. “Students are working harder to get their jobs. … There are jobs out there, but students need to be more flexible in what they will consider, both with respect to location and practice area,” says Kathryn Holt Richardson, assistant dean of career services at the University of Texas School of Law. � Network — you’ve heard it before, but it really works. Nothing beats a strong network of contacts when you are in search of a job. It may not produce results in the form of instant offers, but it is an indispensable tool. “Law students need to realize that nothing beats face-to-face networking,” says Skip Horne, assistant dean of law career services at Silicon Valley’s Santa Clara University School of Law. “E-mailing and applying for jobs online are a sign of the times, but the successful applicants are those who get out from behind their terminals and actually talk to practicing attorneys in person through informational interviews, alumni programs, CLE workshops, and bar association events.” � Be opportunistic and move quickly. Job listings are easily accessible online and in print at most law schools. When it comes to these opportunities the early (and swift) bird often does get the worm. “We have been reminding students to apply ASAP when they read a job announcement in a local or national job bank,” notes GMU’s Huber. Especially in an ailing market, most career services professionals feel a keen responsibility to empower their students and recent graduates with the tools and guidance that will last them well beyond a search for that important first job. “Everyone will get a job, but it will take longer for some,” says UNC’s Chamberlain. “We have to give [students and grads] the know-how to do the legwork. This kind of knowledge will also help graduates when they go for the next job; they’ll have the networking skills.” Prospects for employment for the current crop of law graduates and 3Ls are good. With the right amount of initiative, flexibility, and hard work, there might even be more than a job at the end of the rainbow. Chamberlain suggests, “Those who made the effort to expand their search and learn more about themselves may be happier in the long run.” Jerry Nash is interim executive director of the National Association for Law Placement. More information on employment figures for the class of 2002 can be found at www.nalp.org. NALP’s “Jobs & J.D.’s” report can be ordered online or by calling (202) 835-1001.

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