The 200 or so graduates of the University of Connecticut School of Law were urged by a federal appeals court judge to devote at least part of their efforts to public service.
The 200 or so graduates of the University of Connecticut School of Law were urged by a federal appeals court judge to devote at least part of their efforts to public service. ()

The latest class of Connecticut law school graduates donned their caps and gowns and marched to get their diplomas in May. After years of study and hard work, their new challenge is finding a job. The good news is the legal employment market continues to improve here in Connecticut, just as it has on the national level.

That improved market has worked out for 2016 graduates such as Lily Schurra of Milford, who attended Quinnipiac University School of Law and in August will start her career at Saxe Doernberger & Vita in Trumbull, where she will represent insurance policyholders. “Firms came to the university to do on-campus interviews,” Schurra said. “I think the job search can be difficult because you are competing with everybody, but for the people I know, a lot have jobs lined up already.”

Zachary Dunn of Middletown, also attended Quinnipiac. He will take the bar exam this summer and then clerk for state Appellate Court Judge Michael Sheldon. “A lot of my friends have jobs, and a lot are still looking,” Dunn said. “It is pretty typical for people to still be looking at this point, … Some areas of law have more opportunities,” he added, citing insurance law in Connecticut as opposed to criminal law.

While the statistics for 2016 graduates aren’t in yet, university officials are optimistic based on improving trends in recent years. The National Association for Law Placement Inc., which measures law school employment rates 10 months after graduation, released an annual report in February. According to NALP, the data reveals this “recruiting cycle to be the most robust summer recruiting and new associate hiring cycle since the recession” of 2008-09. “In the last six years following the economic recession, law firms have slowly continued to increase their entry-level recruiting activity,” while the size of the graduating class has gotten smaller.

NALP reported that 95.3 percent of 2015 summer associates—students scheduled to graduate in 2016—received an entry-level position offer, up from 93.4 percent the prior year.

James Ray, director of the Career Planning Center at the University of Connecticut School of Law, said there has been an upward trend in graduates finding jobs. “While some firms continue to seek attorneys who have practiced for two to four years, many are becoming more receptive to new law graduates who have had significant experiential training,” Ray said.

The percentage of UConn graduates who are employed at graduation in full-time, long-term jobs that require a law degree or for which one is preferred has been increasing, from 29 percent in 2013 to about 45 percent in 2015, according to Ray. “We haven’t finished compiling the numbers for 2016, but we’re confident the upward trend is continuing,” Ray said. “We believe the more significant numbers come later, after graduates have taken bar exams and considered their options.”

At 10 months after graduation, more than 80 percent of the graduates from UConn’s class of 2015 had full-time, long-term law degree-required or -preferred jobs. That’s up from 69 percent for the class of 2014 and 59 percent for the class of 2013, according to Ray.

Doretta Sweeney, director of professional and career development at the Quinnipiac University School of Law, said of the job prospects for law school graduates, “While we’re still compiling data about the class of 2016, we believe the job outlook for law school graduates is stronger than it has been in recent years.”

Janet Conroy, a spokeswoman for Yale, said Yale is also still gathering data for the class of 2016. “Our graduates continue to be highly successful in the job market,” she said.

Nationally, American Bar Association data shows that about 10 months after graduation, about 28,029 graduates of the class of 2015, or 70 percent, were employed in long-term, full-time positions where bar passage is required or a law degree is preferred.

For Connecticut law school 2015 graduates, most have found some type of employment. According to ABA data, for UConn, Yale and Quinnipiac law schools, approximately 90 percent of 2015 graduates reported being employed, a figure that includes full-time, short-term and part-time employment.

Monte Frank, president-elect of the Connecticut Bar Association and principal at Cohen and Wolf, said the job market is clearly improving. His firm has two first-year associates starting in the fall, he said. “Many firms are hiring new associates. I have spoken with other firms and they are reporting an uptick,” Frank said. “In 2014 and 2015, we saw slight growth, and 2016 seems to be faring better.”

For new lawyers, the hiring is mostly in the area of litigation, while firms are particularly looking for lateral hires in the areas of product liability, employment, insurance and transactions, according to Frank.

Day Pitney managing partner Stanley Twardy Jr. said his firm has been “consistent” in its rate of hiring first-year attorneys. Both last year and this year, the firm hired seven recent graduates. This year, the new hires were in the areas of trust and estates, litigation and transactional law.

Overall, Twardy said he believes the job market for new lawyers is improving. “It is a slight pickup,” Twardy said.

Marnie Rubin, director of legal recruiting and professional development at Robinson & Cole, said the firm is welcoming eight recent graduates this fall. Of those eight, five graduated from law school in 2016 and two graduated in 2015 and are joining the firm after the completion of their clerkships. Five will work in the firm’s Connecticut offices, she said.

“We have noted an increase in opportunities for new graduates and attorneys at all levels at our firm as well as at other firms in the area,” Rubin said.

Christopher Droney, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, gave the commencement address for UConn’s law school ceremony on May 22.

A 1979 graduate of the law school, Droney was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. He encouraged graduates to devote part of their careers to public service. “Pro bono representation by private lawyers is very rewarding and an important part of helping those less fortunate struggling to contend with our legal system,” Droney said. “One particular area of concern to me and many others is unrepresented parties in civil cases. My generation of lawyers has done a poor job in providing lawyers to those who cannot afford them.”

Droney noted that people without sufficient means often find themselves facing evictions, bankruptcies and foreclosures. “It is now up to your generation to take on this challenge and give poor people a better chance for justice,” Droney said.

At Yale Law School, commencement speaker Stephen B. Bright, a longtime fellow and visiting lecturer in law, told graduates that lawyers and the legal system are “increasingly beyond the reach of some of those hurting the most.” Innocent people in prison, and individuals facing eviction, loss of custody and deportation are among them, he said.

“One reason lawyers and justice are beyond the reach of so many is that throughout our history, the majority of attorneys have been white, male and reasonably well off,” Bright said. “Those most desperately in need of legal services are predominantly racial minorities, who are poor or working-class people. Those who have the legal skills aren’t near them, don’t know them, can’t identify with them, and therefore, do not prioritize helping them.”

Bright encouraged graduates to spend time in prisons, housing projects and homeless shelters, no matter how prosperous they become as lawyers.

“The great privilege of being a lawyer is that you can offer a helping hand and lift people up in ways large and small,” Bright said. •