Tough sledding for new grads

News flash: The economy sucks, especially for Michigan lawyers right now.

Whether you blame it on the national economic meltdown, the Engler court or just the circle of life, one thing is certain: the people feeling the brunt of it are the new graduates, who have no experience and a mountain of debt.

So what else is new, you ask? Hasn’t every graduating class since the beginning of time faced the same obstacle? Yes and no. Certainly everyone starts at the bottom, but at least there were opportunities. The problem for today’s graduates is that there are so few entry level positions available that if you don’t find your job through on-campus interviews, your employment opportunities are bleak.

And even if you are lucky enough to find a job, the current rate for most entry level jobs is far below even modest expectations. Even those who were able to find employment at big firms through on-campus interviews have found that their starting dates were postponed a year if not cancelled all together.

How bad is it? Several blogs, including Above the Law and S#!@ Law Jobs, are dedicated to highlighting the the worst possible examples of legal job postings. A couple great examples:

From Craigslist [HT: Above the Law]

small personal injury firm seeking a 0-2 year experienced lawyer. No experence in persoanl injury required. The job will not pay as well as some others, but the candiate will get a lot of experience immediatedly. The candidate will attend deposition, court hearing, write briefs, and interact with clients, and experts. If you would like to learn personal injury law, or start a personal injury pratice, this is the position for you.

This downtown Chicago job is listed at a part time job. The pay? $1,000 a month. If it was a full time job, it would pay $6.25 an hour. You can make more at McDonalds (because, you know, the minimum wage is $7.15). Something tells me the job requires full time effort.

And it’s not just private firms. The U.S. Attorney for Western Missouri wants to pay attorneys with experience [ATL, again]:

The United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Missouri is seeking applications from attorneys who are willing to accept temporary positions that, while unpaid, offer attorneys a valuable opportunity to gain exposure to the office while also obtaining litigation and potentially trial experience.

What? Are the college football players? And what’s worse is that they actually want a commitment of six months to a year. “Hey recent graduate! I know those student loan bills are coming, but maybe you can live with your parents a little bit longer and work for us for free!” And the work? Well, it sounds like attorney work.

SAUSAs will research legal issues, draft pleadings and briefs, provide support at hearings and trials, and attend difference court proceedings.


Yet despite the glut of lawyers and the dearth of entry level jobs, law schools are still churning out new lawyers at record numbers, and, unlike before, they’re becoming quite active in marketing and advertising themselves with the promise of a better life/career.

The University of Toledo Law School, for example, offers in-state tuition to many Michigan residents. The Thomas M. Cooley Law School bought the naming rights to the Lansing minor league baseball stadium, and has expanded to Grand Rapids, Rochester and Ann Arbor. Both Cooley and Michigan State University School of Law have billboards throughout the state.

It’s to the point that I can’t see how anyone in good conscience encourage somebody to go to law school anymore. I get asked to talk to someone’s family member or friend on a semi-regular basis about what law school is like. Instead, I end up telling them what the market’s like. And they always go to law school anyway, thinking it won’t happen to them. 

I hope, for their sake, that things improve by the time they get out, and they don’t resort to begging the school for their money back if they choose to just go back to what they were doing before they started law school. But with roughly a thousand new attorneys being licensed each year by the State Bar, it’s unlikely to change.