A lost generation of new lawyers?

Brooklyn Law School '09 grad Previn Waran.


Kai Ryssdal: The law school class of 2010 has just graduated. And like their fellow graduates at every level of education, they're pouring into a job market that's still flush with members of the class of 2009. It's even worse for members of the legal profession, though. Last spring, a lot of high-profile law firms put their first-year associates into recession-related holding patterns, paying them somewhat less than a full salary to wait around for a year until there was more work. Now, after cooling their heels for 12 months, those deferred lawyers are finally headed to their desks, which means more lawyers than anybody knows what to do with.

Ashley Milne-Tyte reports.

Ashley Milne-Tyte:Yelena Shreyberg had planned to start slaving away at a large Manhattan law firm in the fall of 2009. But during her finals at Brooklyn Law School last spring, she got some bad news: Her firm wouldn't be taking on all its new hires. Some would start on time, some would start in the spring of this year.

Yelena Shreyberg: And the third group, to which I was placed into, was going to start in the fall, in October 2010.

Until then, the firm said it would pay Shreyberg about half her salary, around $70,000, if she took a job with a nonprofit. She's now working as in-house counsel at a hospital network. She's enjoying the work, but she's itching to start her real job.

Shreyberg: It's better to know that you're there, and you're committed and you are striving for that promotion, to make relationships that will last for years and years.

Firms are mostly making good on their promises to take back deferred graduates. Sometimes they're recalling people earlier than planned. But the backlog of lawyers is bad news for the class of 2010.

Camille Chin-Kee-Fatt is career services director at Brooklyn Law School. She says the big firms have cut hiring by 25 percent this year. And they're shrinking their summer work programs too -- traditionally a pipeline of future lawyers. Take global firm Skadden Arps.

Camille Chin-Kee-Fatt: When I say to folks that Skadden Arps in New York has hired about 30 summer associates this year, their mouths drop. Because normally, it would be about 100 more than that.

Ward Bower: I think we've got at least the class of 2009 and probably the class of 2010 that are becoming something of a lost generation in terms of new lawyers.

Ward Bower is with legal management consultancy Altman Weil. He says many students were banking on Big Law jobs to pay off their six-figure loans. And recent graduates aren't just competing against each other; they're up against a glut of lawyers laid off last year.

Bower says the recession has made companies rethink what they're willing to pay for legal services.

Bower: There's just so much emphasis on managing, controlling and reducing legal costs that they will find other ways to get things done, or they won't do them at all.

That could mean less demand for lawyers for at least the next few years.

2009 Brooklyn Law School graduate Previn Waran feels like one of the lucky ones.

Previn Waran: I mean to be quite frank, the work that I'm doing right now is incredibly stimulating.

Waran's start date at his midtown firm was pushed back to January 2011. In the meantime, he's been clerking for a federal judge.

Waran: The tasks with which I'm charged are, dare I say, more exciting and challenging than the tasks with which I'll be charged as I come into a large law firm as a first-year associate.

That said, he is looking forward to finally starting his career as a highly paid labor lawyer. He's already bought the home to go with the job. Soon, it'll be easier to pay for it.

In New York, I'm Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace.

Log in to post8 Comments

Ok so I know this is sad that current graduates, like myself, can't get jobs. However, I went to college looking to get into a specialized field, winemaking, where jobs are seldom fulltime until you have a lot of experience. The majority, 99.99999% of jobs are internships and part time. With two harvests a year, one in the northern and one in the southern hemisphere, this makes this a very hard industry to work in, try maintaining a relationship where you disapear for 4 months a year, every year. If lawyers think they can complain about their lack of job opportunities they should learn a thing or two about the lack of opportunities for others who are trying to do what they want to do and not think "poor me". I have plan after plan, after back-up plan for when things don't work out the way I would like it. How about expanding your resume beyond legal assistant, in my instance bus driver, mechanic, or retail assistant. You may not fair well but it is a job and no matter what I think any future job will look better on a future employee that tried to stay employed than one that decided to wait and wait and wait.

"more lawyers than anybody knows what to do with." Shakespeare had a suggestion and the law school student who doesn't want to work for "chump change" at a mid-tier firm sounds like a good place to start.

I'm graduating next year---hopefully these big money legal jobs come back soon. I'll have over $150,000 in student loans to pay back and can't afford to work for chump change at a mid-tier law firm.

Don't forget about the Class of '08; they're competing with everyone who just graduated, and are in bad shape as well. Plus, little sympathy for the lawyers you interviewed; at least they have a job, even if it's at half the exorbitant pay they expected.

I look forward to the day when the legal profession includes a stint of public service (such as being a public defender) in the requirement for completion of a law license.

We absolutley need fewer lawyers! Especaily the type profiled in your story. I doubt these people could get their hands dirty defending or proscuting the usual crop of idiots who seem to come to criminal court. Instead these people are apt to go into high political office where they keep coming up with new laws that are really not needed when you really think about. I have always felt that the law is one profession that can make it's own work easily!

Wouldn't it be closer to journalistic objectivity to at least mention the possible benefits to our society of having fewer lawyers? The growth in the number of practicing lawyers in our country closely mirrors the demise of other industries. There are only so many legal fees that any economy can support; they are essentially a tax on all other industries.

We can only hope that the laws of supply and demand will function efficiently in this case; no jobs for two years worth of law grads SHOULD mean that fewer people make the choice to head to law school. This could be the most positive effect of the recession since the reduction in the number of "realtors" and mortgage brokers. Like tick and flea treatment for our entire economy.

I changed a career from art to medicine, became disabled and started a Masters in Public Health to continue to make a difference and help people. The comments by the young lawyers struck me as selfish, greedy and without insight into the ability of lawyers to help those in dire need of their services. This is a profession and not a job, their learning is just beginning. They will need to hold themselves to a certain moral and ethical standard, re-evaluating their actions every day. After many years, the frustrations of such work might change one's commitment, but is unseemly in a lawyer just beginning a career.

With Generous Support From...