March 16, 2013 • By Dennis Beaver
Some widely held beliefs persist long after evidence that they are flawed has come to light. Today, for anyone considering law as a profession, this statement has special relevance.
“Up until the last decade, a license to practice law usually meant a good-paying job with security and the prestige of being a member of the legal profession,” attorney and law career expert Sally Kane, who writes for About.com and PaperStreet.com, tells You and the Law.
“The cost of a law school education has outpaced inflation and many students rack up six-figure debt. At the same time, a stagnant economy, competitive pressures and changing legal needs have led to a drop in the demand for new law grads.
“Today, thousands of lawyers — members of state bars — are employed in non-lawyer positions, earning a fraction of what an attorney would earn. And that’s why would-be lawyers who do their research will not be blindsided by realities of the legal marketplace, where finding employment will be harder that it was for past generations of attorneys,” she observes.
“Sure, students from the top-tier schools will have their choice of job opportunities, but for most others, beyond getting good grades, students need to focus on the big picture — employment after graduation, and working towards that goal from the beginning of their education. This means cultivating a network of professional contacts while in school which will prove valuable to finding quality employment upon graduation,” Kane believes.
You’ve got to analyze this job choice differently
Shant Karnikian is a graduate of Loyola Law School of Los Angeles and a recently minted lawyer facing $200,000 in student loan debt. Like many of his friends who also passed the bar exam, he is working in Los Angeles, at a small firm — but as a law clerk — and earns significantly less that he would ever have thought possible just three years ago. Still, Karnikian considers himself “lucky to even be doing this, as many of my friends have found nothing at all in law.”
He values the education — and what the law school experience did for him personally — and is not blaming anyone for his current under-employment situation. “Marketplace realities led to there being simply too many law grads and that was magnified by the financial crisis. The job of a law school is to provide a solid education, and I got that,” he adds.
“It is encouraging to see how law schools are responding to this different marketplace, giving students a dose of the real world early on, with the addition of many more practical courses. And I think the reality for today’s entering law students is that administrators and teachers will give them a much more realistic picture of life after graduation — and explore ways of finding employment much sooner than before,” Karnikian firmly believes.
“Also, the well-publicized drop in law school applications across the country should help normalize the ability of new lawyers to find real jobs in the coming years. No one
dreamed of a bubble in law, but that’s what happened, and now that bubble has popped,” he accurately observes.
A three-point analysis for anyone considering law
Karnikian believes that anyone considering law must look at three separate issues:
• Will there be a job for me when I finish law school? Is it worth the time and debt I’ll be taking on? You could easily have a $1,500 monthly loan payment — like having another rent bill! Could I reduce that debt by working full-time and going to law school at night?
• Are you sure you want to be a lawyer? As many counselors now advise, take a year off after college and be sure it’s the right decision for you. Have you ever spent time in a lawyer’s office, or asked an attorney if they like what they do? It’s is not like TV — there’s often a ton of boring, monotonous paperwork, and lots of repetition.
• Do you have a clear career path? Will a law degree help you? Will law school help you with what you’re already doing? Will it help you advance in your present job — one you might keep, while going to law school part-time?
Still glad he made this choice
While this is a rough time for Karnikian and others like him, he’s optimistic about his future. “I’m reassured by friends who graduated from law school before the market began to shrink and who are happy they became lawyers. Their message is one of patience and understanding-that in a year or two, with experience even as a law clerk, a door will open.”
And we are certain that through that door will one day walk an ethical and able lawyer.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.