This fall, about 740 students in Tennessee begin their last year of law school, headed toward graduation and the daunting task of finding a job to pay for it. Also facing this year’s graduating class is a profession that some say is in the middle of a dramatic change. Technological advances and fallout from the recent recession have altered the legal landscape, leaving these law students with the challenge of maneuvering their careers in a climate of uncertainty. Have the last few years just been an aberration or have they been a sea change?
The job market itself remains uncertain at best. In data released earlier this year, the American Bar Association found that while 82 percent of 2012 law school graduates were employed, only 56 percent were in full-time, permanent jobs that required bar passage. With the average debt owed at $108,000, law students are bound to be calculating if their investment will pay off — and wondering if they will be able to pay back their loans.
One factor for these grads is the apparent decline of large, high-billing firms and that a high-paying job after school is no longer a given. But while many decry the demise of “Big Law,” others see opportunity in less traditional legal careers.
“Most of the entry-level jobs that have been lost nationwide are in the big law firms in larger legal markets, and those at the highest salary levels,” Dr. Karen Britton at the University of Tennessee Colleg of Law says. “That doesn’t directly relate to the personal career aspirations of all law students. But it tends to make big news, and it is certainly important to students who assume significant debt in anticipation that a handsome salary would result.”
Britton, who is the director of admissions and financial aid and director of the Bettye B. Lewis Career Center at UT, estimates that 15 percent of third-year students come back to school with an offer and another 25 percent receive and accept offers during fall semester. “In this day and time, if 50 percent of the 3Ls have a job offer by graduation, that’s the ‘new normal.’ Most employers are making fewer offers and many will wait until later to make them so they can better gauge their actual hiring needs,” she adds. “Many public sector employers traditionally hire after graduation and/or bar passage.”
This should make the Class of 2014 feel a little better, at least for now. We’ll see what happens with 15 of them, representing each of Tennessee’s six varied law schools. Each school and student have unique situations and we’ll take a look at them each month in print. You will also be able to get up-to-the-minute details online.
These students will blog about their experiences this year, which you can follow through The Law Launch Project here. The site is open for comment, so please take a look and throw your two cents in. Whether you are a law student or already a lawyer, readers will want to know your opinions.
- “NALP: Law Grads’ Jobs Rate Falls for Fifth Straight Year,” by Karen Sloan, The National Law Journal, June 20, 2013.
- “Law grads get the best and worst return on their investment at these schools,” by Debra Cassens Weis, ABAJournal.com, Aug. 14, 2013.
- “The Case of the Shrinking Law Schools,” by Jeannie Naujeck, The Nashville Ledger, July 19, 2013.