Reality Bites? 2009 Law Grads Working, But Current Jobs May Be Detour From Dream Career

Reality isn’t just a trend in television. It’s what recent law grads are doing right now to pay the bills. In Have JD, Now What? Many Law Grads Get Jobs, But Not Dream Careers,the ABA Journal reports that although “many new law graduates are employed, they often are not pursuing the dream careers they anticipated when they went to law school.”

Reporting on a new survey by the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) concerning employment and salaries for the class of 2009, the ABA Journal notes that “many are working temporary or part-time jobs, and others have had their start dates as new law firm associates deferred for months, and a big group of employed law graduates are still looking for work, suggesting that they’re not happy with the jobs they have.”

Some key stats cited by the ABA Journal:

• More than one-fifth of the members of the class of 2009 who do have jobs are seeking work. That’s much higher (nearly 22%)than the previous year’s 16%.

• Fewer working graduates report that they are in law practice (70.8% in 2009 compared with 74.7% in 2008).

• Many who are in law practice have done so on their own. Sole practitioners accounted for 2.9% of all jobs reported this year, up from 1.9% last year.

• The number of temporary jobs accounted for nearly a quarter of all reported employment for the class of 2009. “Although this figure includes prestigious judicial clerkships, it also reflects big boosts in the number of temporary public interest jobs (41% of all public interest jobs were temporary), business jobs (30% were temporary) and even private practice (8%).

• A total of 88.3% of the 2009 law graduates whose situation is known are employed, down 3.6 points from 91.9% two years earlier, in 2007. According to NALP, the total employment figure could fall further in the future.

• The 2009 figures for BigLaw employees reflects what happened in the summer and fall of 2007, when most received offers for 2008 summer associate positions. However, the legal economy at that point was more robust than it was in much of 2008 and 2009.

But here’s a bright spot. The January 2010 ABA Journal Magazine featured the cover story, When the Detour Becomes the Destination and provides an interesting perspective on all this. The story profiled law school graduates who faced the job market in the early 1990s and had this to say:

Not everyone in the law school classes of 1990-93 coped equally well. There were those who abandoned the law entirely, dropping off the radar of schools that track where their grads land. But the overwhelming majority, whether they graduated from top-tier or lesser-known schools, landed jobs that made use of their legal degrees, according to annual surveys by the Washington, D.C-based National Association for Law Placement. Their varied experiences suggest that even in the worst of economic times, graduates who are determined and flexible can lay the groundwork for long-term success. And even people with the most carefully planned careers sometimes benefit from being tossed off course, however painful the process.

This recession “absolutely will change people’s careers,” says NALP Executive Director James G. Leipold. “Some of these deferred associates who go to public service, they’re going to find out they really like it. People who can’t get jobs—it doesn’t mean they’ll have worse careers, but they’ll have different careers than the ones they thought they’d have.”

NALP Executive Director, James Leipold provides more insight into the job market for law school graduates in a recent article, “Market for Law Graduates Changes With Recession: Class of 2009 Faced New Challenges.” James Leipold was also a guest on Law School Podcaster’s show, “The Current Economic Environment: What It Means for Law School Applicants and Students.” Listen to the full podcast to hear more on this topic.