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A lost generation of new lawyers?

Brooklyn Law School '09 grad Previn Waran.

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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.

About the author

Ashley Milne-Tyte is the host of a podcast about women in the workplace called The Broad Experience.

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