Last night I attended a student-faculty social event sponsored by the SMG senior class–beer (them), club soda (me), and nachos in a Kenmore Square bar. (Had the Sox won the seventh game of the ALCS this bar and the rest of Kenmore Square would have been shoulder-to-shoulder with fans heading to Fenway, and I would have left shortly before 8:00 PM to take my seat in Box 86 Row G. But the Sox didn’t win the seventh game and I drove home.) The students attending, being seniors, are facing the worst employment market in recent memory. Finance concentrators face drastically fewer jobs than existed two months ago when many completed Wall Street internships, marketing, operations, and IS concentrators face tightened hiring budgets, and accounting concentrators face–well, I don’t know what they face. I haven’t talked to any recently. Gallows humor and anxiety are the plat du jour.
Gallows humor, anxiety, and thoughts of graduate school. It’s law-school application season, I’m working through my stack of LSAC recommendation letters (this weekend’s goal is to write four), and I’m talking about law school almost daily. A number of students for whom law school was a possibility in a few years have penciled it in for September 2009, and others are seriously considering it for the first time. Common sense says that the number of applications for next year’s 1L class will be up. Competition, already intense, will be fierce, squeezing applicants from their reach schools.
Those who choose law school because the job market is bad are betting that they’ll graduate to better prospects in 2012. As I’ve written many times the stratification in the legal profession means that a small number of law grads each year compete for well-paying BigLaw jobs while many struggle to earn enough to cover their student loans. No one goes to law school expecting to finish in the bottom half of his or her class but, of course, the math dictates that every other law student will land there, where employers don’t recruit. The legal profession is not recession proof. In A Grim Verdicit Awaits Law Grads the National Law Journal reports “[t]he number of legal jobs nationwide is steadily declining . . . Jobs in the law sector shrank by 2,000 in September — the fifth consecutive month of losses. The legal work force of 1,165,100 was down by 1.15 percent from a year ago, when the industry employed 1,178,600 people.” As I was writing this another headline (also from the National Law Journal) popped into my email inbox: Grim Report Advises Law Firms to Prepare for a Long, Painful Slide. Did the NLJ get a special on the word “grim?”
What to do? Some prospective law students should consider an alternate course following graduation next May. One student I spoke with last night is considering Teach for America. It is already quite competitive and becoming more so, but it and similar programs allow one to defer law school, gain life experience, grow older (life experience and maturing being consistent with my mantra that there should be a gap between college and law school), and, most importantly, do something worthwhile for others. “Helping others” is not a career objective I hear often from my students but this economy may force some to re-evaluate their choices. My decision to attend law school and my orientation to law were shaped by my college and post-college experience doing prisoner’s rights and legal services work. It would not be a bad thing if more of our bright, ambitious students spent time in public service work.