October 10, 2007

Job Market Shrinks for Some Law School Graduates

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For students trying to figure out what to do after college, law school may no longer be a permanent backup plan.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the job market for law school graduates is shrinking. The number of American Bar Association accredited law schools has increased by 11 percent since 1995, and the number of law degrees awarded has increased by almost 6000 in the past five years, resulting in a tightening market for young lawyers looking to cash-in on their hard-earned Juris Doctors.
Students from the top law schools, however, are not affected as closely. In fact, their prospects seem to be growing. According to Cornell Law School Assistant Dean of Student and Career Services John DeRosa ’89, the market for Cornell law students has been very strong the past few years.
“Our average final placement rate over the past few years has been just shy of 100 percent, at 98 or 99, and that is typical for us,” said DeRosa. “Overall, our stats are well above national averages.”
Students graduating from the top-ranked law schools typically go to work at nationally recognized firms, and those firms are hiring at the same rate that they have always been hiring, according to Adeola Adejobi law ’09.
“In large law firms, there is a lot of room for rotation. Most people spend three to five years at firm and leave and go somewhere else. That’s why they are able to hire so many people,” he said.
DeRosa agreed, claiming that a firm with hundreds of lawyers is always going to have a need for new lawyers, regardless of the state of the market. However, outside of those enrolled in the top 20 or 30 schools, most students are not focused on these firms.
“When people think law, they think money. When you think money, you think large law firms. When you think about what these firms want, they want people at the top of their class, people at really good law schools,” said Adejobi. “People know Cornell throughout the nation. Coming from here, or Columbia or Georgetown, students have the option of going anywhere in the nation.”
Adejobi said that students who go to smaller, third or fourth tier law schools, may not have the same opportunities to work at these large-scale firms. Rather, they will have a better shot at working for mid-level regional firms that are more familiar with their particular school. These smaller firms, however, are the ones Adejobi feels are affected by the weakening market.
“As the economy slows down, smaller law firms which may not hire every year in the best of circumstances may begin to go two or three years at a time without hiring at all,” said DeRosa. “Thus, I would expect the impact of a weakening market to be more pronounced, in terms of overall placement rates and average starting salaries, at a school with a history of sending its graduates to smaller firms.”
Nevertheless, Cornell has not seen a decrease in the number of undergraduates seeking advice on pursuing legal careers, according to the Career Services Office.
According to Deanne Maxwell, Human Ecology’s pre-law advisor, most undergraduates at Cornell are interested in attending the top law schools, so they are not as affected by these hiring trends.
However, some students are worried. Jarett Goldman ’08 feels that the effects of the slowing economy will trickle down to make it more difficult for him and other pre-law students to gain admission to the top law schools.
“Since more people are having a tough time finding jobs, the number of people applying to law school is increasing, so its tougher to get in,” he said.
Adejobi agreed. “When the economy is bad, people want to go to school instead of entering the job market,” he said. “But when the economy is good, firms are not as stringent about who they hire. I wouldn’t encourage people to go to law school because they don’t have anything else to do.”