It may not be time for desperate measures quite yet, but career services offices at Texas law schools are doing more this year to help worried students find clerkships and permanent positions as the troubled economy crimps the job market.

The mood of the law students around Texas is one of concern and worry, if not panic, say career services officials at several Texas law schools.

Reginald Green, assistant dean for career services at South Texas College of Law, says many of his law school’s students are concerned, but he believes that if they are creative in their job search, they will be successful.

“We are trying to stretch out the market a little bit, to broaden the opportunities,” says Green, whose Houston law school has about 1,200 students. “The key for us is to simply leave no stone unturned. Law students now are looking at the law degree . . . much broader than simply the practice of law,” he says.

For example, Green is encouraging students who haven’t landed firm positions to consider some nontraditional jobs that value a law degree, such as compliance officers and landmen positions, and also to look at government agencies, which may be hiring because of the new Obama administration.

Indeed, career services offices at Texas law schools are doing more this year to help students find clerkships and jobs. The career services offices are doing extra outreach with prospective employers, organizing more seminars with career advice for students, and even seeking advice for students from alumni.

The bottom line is consistent from school to school: Positions are scarce, so students need to put more effort into their job hunts.

While career services officials are trying new ways to connect students to prospective employers, some tried-and-true methods aren’t working as well. For instance, Karen Sargent, assistant dean and director of career services at Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law in Dallas, says the career services office usually generates job postings from firms of various sizes after sending e-mails or postcards to firm contacts reminding them about the law school. But recently, she says, it’s mostly smaller firms that respond with job opportunities for students.

At Texas Tech University School of Law in Lubbock, Julie Coffman Doss, assistant dean for career services, says the 420-student law school has organized off-campus recruiting in Dallas, Houston and Austin each spring since 2004, but the school didn’t get enough interest from firms this year to be able to hold the events.

“It was a shock,” Doss says, noting that the school usually arranges interviews for students at five firms in each city.

“This is the last thing this group of students was anticipating when entering law school,” Sargent says.

Doss says she is trying to prevent students from panicking when they hear news that firms around the country are scaling back hiring or, even worse, laying off associates they’ve already trained. Houston-based Andrews Kurth and Dallas-based Winstead are two large firms that have laid off lawyers in recent weeks.

Doss says firms in Texas are still hiring, but it may be the smaller firms. “We are trying to remain calm and help students continue to be aggressive.”

Straight Talk

Some new efforts and programs are getting good responses from students.

On March 2, Sargent says, she and Dean John Attanasio held two seminars to give second- and third-year law students at SMU some “straight information” on the economy and the state of the legal market. She says the students need to understand they must “call on their inner strengths and resources and adjust their expectations.”

Amanda Ellis, a recruiter in Dallas who graduated from the University of Texas School of Law in 2001, gave the SMU students some advice at the seminars. Ellis says she told students to network creatively, such as through Twitter, and to network with individuals who do business with lawyers, such as consultants or accountants. She also suggested looking for jobs outside the big cities, like she did in 2001 when she moved to Boston after graduation and landed a job at a firm 40 miles outside the city. She says students who are becoming lawyers as a second career should try to leverage their past experience, such as a former teacher practicing school law.

Ellis told students to be open to possibilities. “What you do right now does not mean you will be doing it 10 years from now,” she says she told the students.

While technology can help students contact prospective employers, Sargent says, the SMU career services office this month is sponsoring a “good old-fashioned résumé drop” for second-year students. She’s asking students to put paper copies of their résumés in practice-area buckets, and her office is contacting alumni to let them know about the buckets of résumés.

Also, Sargent says, last week her office started distributing to students a brochure comprised of letters from alumni of the law school with their best job-hunting advice. The office solicited advice from lawyers who graduated in 1991 and 1992 and 2001 and 2002, which are years when firms were feeling the effects of previous economic downturns. [ See "Prepare Like It's 1991," this page. ]

The law school has more than 1,000 students, she says.

At the University of Houston Law Center, Assistant Dean of Career Development Rhonda Beassie says job postings for summer clerkships and permanent positions are up about 8 percent compared to last year, primarily because the career services office launched a special effort more than a year ago to actively contact a “tremendous number” of small firms.

“That was a nice surprise,” Beassie says.

As part of that push with smaller firms, Beassie says, the law school held a spring on-campus interviewing program for the first time since 2004, and 10 employers participated. She expects as many as 12 1L and 2L students to obtain summer positions because of their interviews.

“We had a more favorable response than expected given the market,” she says.

The office has held a couple special programs this school year for the law center’s 950 students to help them search for work in a down economy, she says.

Beassie says she routinely takes a few students with her each time she attends a bar-related event or other event where the students can network with lawyers. So does Arturo Errisurez, assistant dean for career services at Texas Wesleyan University School of Law in Fort Worth.

“We encourage visibility. It helps bridge the gap between law school and practice and could lead to a job offer for the summer or after graduation,” Errisurez says.

He’s also encouraging the 812 students at his law school to try to get part-time jobs at firms, which provides hands-on experience and contacts.

That’s exactly how Donnie Miller, a third-year student at Texas Wesleyan, got a job. Through a law school contact, Miller landed a part-time job at W.T. “Skip” Leake’s firm in Arlington. He started working part time in August 2008, and he has been hired for a permanent position at the litigation firm after graduation.

Miller says the school’s career services office has been helpful, but he was lucky to land a job through his own contacts.

Doss says that for the first time her office put together a series of seminars for students interested in opening a solo law practice after graduation. She says more than 50 students out of about 680 at the school attended the first session, held on Feb. 10, where 237th District Judge Sam Medina talked about the benefits of going solo. At the second session, 364th District Judge Brad Underwood talked about how to set up a practice and how to obtain court appointments. Medina and Underwood each did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

Upcoming sessions will include advice from a panel of solo practitioners and information from the State Bar of Texas on malpractice insurance, Doss says.

Donna Davis-Gregory, assistant dean of career services at Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Houston, says her office for the first time is doing “satellite counseling” in the school’s lobby, so it’s easier for students to get career counseling. That lets students get answers as they come in and out of the building instead of going to the career services office.

“It’s well-received,” Davis-Gregory says. “We are able to counsel them on the spot and tell them what they should do.”

As for general job-search advice, Davis-Gregory says she is telling students to contact state district judges to apply for judicial clerkships and to consider getting an advanced legal degree to help them become more marketable.

Also, Davis-Gregory says, she’s planning a new event: a reception in April where students will meet with lawyers from small and mid-sized Texas firms. Lawyers from the firms will receive a book containing résumés from all the students, she says.

Davis-Gregory notes that because Thurgood Marshall is the most diverse law school in the nation, “we still have a great number of employers who recruit here who are honestly, truly interested in diversity.”

David Montoya, assistant dean for career services at the University of Texas School of Law in Austin, says his office is doing more outreach at small and medium-sized firms in Texas and at government agencies. Last year, the office arranged for internships at public interest organizations for 35 students from the 2008 graduating class, and the office is currently working on a repeat program this year, he says.

Heather Creed, assistant dean of professional development and student relations at Baylor Law School in Waco, says the career services office is contacting state district judges in Texas and arranging for interested judges to interview first- and second-year students seeking paid or unpaid summer internships at the courts. So far, the office has heard back from 59 judges in Texas who may be interested for this summer, she says.

Notes SMU’s Sargent, “Our biggest message is don’t waste this crisis. This is a time to reassess and to keep sight of your long-term goals, but perhaps reposition yourself on how you get there.”