When I started law school in 2009, I figured my timing was perfect. By the time three years was over, the recession would be a distant memory and I would have my pick of places to begin a shining new career as a lawyer. Today, my prediction is not looking so hot. Popular legal blogs such as Above The Law continue to describe the job market for law graduates as lousy. Heck, even top law review editors at prestigious schools can't find jobs.
Here at U of L, I know of a handful of people with permanent jobs lined up. But there are far more of us who have been turned down by employers, or told that there just isn't room next year, despite the terrific job you did as a clerk. This is hardly surprising, considering how big law firms in town are trimming their ranks by laying off associates, hiring fewer graduates, and down-sizing their summer programs. It's not time to hit the panic button yet, of course. We're still just one month into our final year. In some respects, I think Louisville graduates are in a better position than their peers at higher-ranked schools, where student debt is often in the six figures. In this month's edition of Bar Briefs, for example, LBA president K. Gregory Haynes points out that law school tuition increased 317 percent from 1989 to 2009, making a law degree an increasingly "risky" investment. Haynes also makes good points about the manipulation of employment numbers by law schools, quoting a recent ABA resolution that discusses the "disconnect between law students' perception of their employment prospects upon completion of their law school education and the reality of what law students will realistically achieve."
Elsewhere in the same publication, our own law school's dean, Jim Chen, makes the case for Louisville Law as a value school where the debt numbers are far more favorable. At the same time, he points out that even at a value school like U of L, many students are leaving school with roughly $75,000 in debt, compared to average starting salaries in the private sector of $69,400. That last figure is not from Chen, but from the school's 2009 employment report, which also indicates that 77 percent of students received job offers before graduation and more than 95 percent were employed within nine months of graduation. Those stats seem overly rosy to me, although I don't believe the school is cooking the numbers. It's simply following the established system. Even so, it's not hard to find critics of law school employment stats. Depending on what you read, law schools "completely misrepresent" the numbers, or there are at least "ongoing questions" about the validity of jobs stats.
One excellent resource, Law School Transparency, puts the median private sector salary for Louisville at $55,000. I actually would be quite happy to find a job at that level, especially considering the low cost of living in Louisville. And while I do not have a job locked down yet, I know that no matter where I land, my long-term prospects will be considerably brighter than they were in my former profession. In journalism, just hanging on to the job you have is a victory.