The legal profession has traditionally been one of the most prudent career paths in America. But what once seemed a secure route to a bright future has hit a bottleneck as job prospects in the industry have become, at best, anemic, since the beginning of the economic crisis in 2008. Students saddled with huge debt now face graduation with frighteningly few options, even those coming from the nation’s best law schools.
The Web site Law Shucks determined that “2009 will go down as the worst year ever for law-firm layoffs,” based on its archive of press releases, leaked e-mails and news reports. The data show that 4,633 lawyers were let go last year from the group of high-powered, high-paying national firms loosely known as “Big Law.” And those numbers don’t even include lawyers whose firms dissolved completely, who were the victims of “stealth layoffs” masquerading as firings, or who were laid off by smaller firms. In other words, Law Shucks concluded that, in 2009, “More people were laid off by more firms than had been reported for all previous years combined.”
In the end, Warner found a job with USC’s own Small Business Clinic, which helps law students gain experience by giving legal advice to small businesses that cannot afford market rates. She was one of two students taken from a pool of 50. “I’m thrilled to have a paying and interesting summer job,” Warner said.
But during the time she was searching for summer work — as late as April — Warner contemplated taking out even more loans to support herself over the summer. “Many of my classmates are still searching for summer jobs or have taken volunteer positions,” she said. “A lot of people, if they are from out of state, are going back home and living with their families [for the summer].”
For the class of 2012, the reality that they may not obtain top-dollar jobs has sunk in early. “It’s disheartening to work so hard and it’s still not enough. Who knows what the person who got that summer associate job had that I didn’t?”