For those suddenly-terrified law students who until recently had expected to glide smoothly along the BigLaw track to a soft landing in the warm embrace and inflated salaries of associate life, the nonstop parade of bad news about law firm downsizing is particularly disconcerting. Predictions of massive and fundamental change in the legal industry keep appearing, and always seem to boil down to some variation of fewer attorneys making less money.
(In case you missed it, the New York Times was at it again on Wednesday, suggesting among other things that starting salaries at top firms might drop all the way to $100,000 -- the horror.)
So, if everything has changed, where do you look now? Here are four things to think about as you shift your focus.
1. Look to your school No, you can't expect them to slash
tuition to keep your debt under control. Yes, they will from time to
time inexplicably throw a job-search curveball like holding up your grades
for three months. But law schools are paying attention to the
employment challenges facing job-searching students, and career
services offices are trying to help, like by offering advice from alumni
on how to break into the legal workforce in these challenging times.
In the end, you'll be doing the hard work of the job search on your
own, but it can't hurt to avail yourself of all the support your school
2. Make the most of the opportunities you have Summer jobs have been hard to find,
and with firms anxious to control costs, post-summer offers are no sure
thing. So once you land that summer gig, make the best impression you
can and focus on how you will land the permanent offer. FindLaw Writ
columnist Julie Hilden suggests a few strategies;
some of them, like the tips on approaching research and writing, can
benefit you even if you're spending your summer in public-interest or
small-firm work rather than BigLaw.
3. Seek public interest, but be prepared to compete For
those feeling their BigLaw dreams being squeezed, switching tracks and
aiming for public-interest jobs often seems like an easy, if less
lucrative, alternative. But be prepared to face stiffer competition
than usual: many deferred or rejected BigLaw recruits will be gunning for those same jobs. Some firms, seeking to avoid layoffs, are encouraging even current associates to take time off to pursue public-interest work.
4. Think small (firm) and nontraditional Inevitably,
you'll need to broaden your search and explore all the options.
Smaller firms are an option for some. Although they may lack the
prestige of the large firm, and although they are not immune to the
downturn either, there are lots of them, they often hand student clerks
or junior associates interesting and substantial work, and they can
offer experience across a broad array of practice areas.
New arrangements like contract-based work are also becoming more common for new attorneys. Ventures like Law Clerk Connection
are aiming squarely at law students and recent graduates, looking to
connect them with firms who need research, writing, and other
outsourceable tasks performed.
Whether the legal profession is
going through a lasting and fundamental change, or a sharp and
temporary reaction to recession, current law students will be feeling
the pain, with brand-new law school debt and relatively fewer
opportunities. Maximize the opportunities you have, be resourceful and
flexible, and you will find that there is life beyond BigLaw.