Over the past ten days I’ve heard from a number of former students who had just begun classes as first-year law students. I appreciate that they’ve taken time to write. At the beginning of their first year most students are excited by actually starting this thing they’ve thought about for years, stimulated by their insertion into a group of a few hundred equally smart Type A personalities, and fretting about how they will do. How will they handle the first time a professor cold-calls on them? How will they keep up with the reading? Who among their classmates is like-minded enough to befriend? I wrote recommendations for all of the students who emailed and I feel some responsibility for them. Not a lot, but some. A headline like this from Tuesday’s NY Times grabs me: “Downturn Dims Prospects Even at Top Law Schools.” The article’s opening paragraphs are grim:
This fall, law students are competing for half as many openings at big firms as they were last year in what is shaping up to be the most wrenching job search season in over 50 years. For students now, the promise of the big law firm career — and its paychecks — is slipping through their fingers, forcing them to look at lesser firms in smaller markets as well as opportunities in government or with public interest groups, law school faculty and students say.
The article explains that things are worst for the class of 2011, the rising 2L’s who are looking for 2010 big-firm summer associate positions. There are too many ahead of them in the firm pipelines so the firms are cutting back their recruiting. Even if things pick up over the next year, the rising 2L’s will miss have missed the summer associate boat that sails in 2011.
All of the students who wrote are clear-eyed about what lies ahead–but the road will be much harder than they thought when they applied last fall.