The job market for law school graduates, it seems, is becoming increasingly narrow. With more qualified applicants than available jobs, not to mention financially crippling student loan debt, the stakes are higher than ever to try to land a job before—or immediately after—graduation. The bottom line is this: Students are no longer guaranteed to walk out of school with a shiny new law degree right into their first position. Even those graduating from top-tier law schools find themselves facing unemployment.
What Is Causing the Problem?
For starters, law firms are demanding more experience from new hires, preferring those with face-to-face client experience, excellent skills, and the ability to draft documents from the get-go. Though there has been a shift in the educational experience (with new externship opportunities, for example), law school graduates still may not have the skill set required to get their foot in the proverbial door. Add to that the increased availability of legal websites providing documents at a fraction of the cost, and the downturn of the economy making legal representation inaccessible for many Americans, and you have a recipe for disaster. Let’s not forget the higher percentage of Americans choosing to represent themselves in court, either; we can all thank television legal dramas and Internet research for that shift in legal practice!
What the Future Holds
It seems, therefore, that a solution is needed both to provide hands-on experience to recent law student graduates and to make more affordable rates available to those seeking law advice. Enter the teaching law firm, as described in The New York Times. Though the concept is still in its infancy, it is an intuitive solution that was, perhaps, not needed in the past. That said, it seems to be part of the answer to the challenges facing the next generation of lawyers. A teaching law firm is a program affiliated with a law school, providing recent grads paying jobs working at a firm that offers lower-cost services to underserved populations in the community. The hands-on training has been likened to the Teach for America program, in that highly educated lawyers gain real-life law experience while working in lower economic areas. The new lawyers also earn a modest salary that (hopefully) keeps the bill collectors at bay. The idea here is that students will become more desirable by the standards of other law firms in the area.
The idea seems to be catching on, as several schools have begun developing their own versions of the teaching law school. Arizona State, Brooklyn Law, City University of New York, Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, and the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law (which started Lawyers for America, specifically modeled after Teach for America) are just a few of the law schools looking to help out recent law school graduates with job opportunities.
In the not-so-distant future, it is likely that numerous changes will be made to training and post-graduate opportunities to make law school graduates more employable. Hopefully, such changes will allow students to find jobs more quickly and pursue the career in law they have long dreamed about.