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New Lawyers Graduating to Difficult Job Market

New Lawyers Graduating to Difficult Job Market





By AMANDA BRONSTAD

Staff Reporter

Last summer, Bryan Rotella was on track toward finding a job as an attorney in Los Angeles.

Heading into his final year at Pepperdine University School of Law, Rotella completed his summer internship at Masry & Vititoe PC in Westlake Village and was interested in working in government.

Now, weeks after receiving his degree, Rotella has no job. Masry & Vititoe, the law firm of “Erin Brockovich” fame, offered him a job as a mere law clerk, a junior position, and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office wasn’t hiring.

He’s now looking in Florida.

Rotella’s dilemma is not unusual.

“You hear stories about applicants in the top 10 to 15 percent of their class sending out 400 cover letters and resumes and not getting interviews, much less job offers,” said Scot Wilson, another Pepperdine graduate. “A lot of those students three years ago would’ve not only had a job offer, but maybe a couple. It’s really a time of desperation.”

Statistics are still being compiled, but area law schools report seeing a drop in job offers from L.A. firms, particularly the larger ones.

At Loyola Law School, for instance, the percentage of students without permanent jobs from the May graduation class was 3 percent higher than average, said Graham Sherr, assistant dean of career services. Typically, 40 percent of a class of 400 graduates finish without jobs.

At Pepperdine, 60 percent of its 200-some graduating class have permanent jobs, down from 70 percent in a good year, said Carol Allemeier, director of career services at Pepperdine. The major firms, she said, are not committing, preferring to have former interns return for temporary jobs.

National trend

Signs of the downturn were seen in the fall when recruiting by major firms was off from previous years. An April survey by the National Association for Law Placement found recruiting by law firms in the Western U.S. had decreased more than in the rest of the nation.

It is a trend that has extended to California’s government offices as well, which have been hit hard by the state budget crunch.

John Paccione, assistant director of the Bureau of Management and Budget at the L.A. County District Attorney’s office, said all attorney hiring has been frozen for the past two years.

“A lot of those graduating now entered law school in a good market,” said Amy Mallow, assistant dean for career services at UCLA School of Law. “There has been a shift of expectations and trying to be realistic. The market is more discouraging.”

In a good market, law students who complete summer internships typically receive job offers in the fall, Sherr said. They still have one year to graduate and complete the bar exam, but they have secured work.

“We didn’t see a large drop-off in terms of firms recruiting for their summer programs,” said Mallow. “A lot of those firms continue to recruit and bring in students with a longer-term view. If anywhere, we saw less opportunity for third-year students. We saw less opportunity with on-campus interviews for these slots.”

The NALP found that the percentage of summer associates offered a full-time associate’s position slipped to 84 percent in fall 2001, from 90 percent in recent years. At the same time, the acceptance rate for offers jumped to 73 percent from 66 percent last year.

This year, Sherr said, the percentage of summer associates who receive job offers should be much higher because law firms have estimated their hiring needs more appropriately, given current economic conditions.

“If you talk to the big firms, they’ll admit they cut back their summer programs by about one-third,” Pepperdine’s Allemeier said.

Paul Hastings Janofsky & Walker LLP will have a summer internship class of 84 this year, down from 100 in 2001, said Anton Mack, managing director of recruitment at Paul Hastings.

Mack insisted, though, that the reductions were not due to economic factors. “Our small reduction in summer associates is more attributable to an efficient planning process in projecting what our needs will be,” Mack said. “It was a correction, not a pullback.”

Broadening horizons

To combat the job crunch, several law school grads are considering other options, including changing practice areas to bankruptcy or litigation, where the job market is better. Others are looking to smaller firms, many of which have suffered less in the downturn or are more likely to hire students after they graduate or complete the bar, Allemeier said.

Other students are looking at judicial clerkships, where they can obtain a year’s experience that can be applied toward a partnership track.

“Students in the past who would have eagerly gone to a big firm with hopes of gaining experience and making a salary are now seeking a judicial clerkship in order to ride out the poor economy,” Wilson said. “It’s lower paying, but you are credited with one year’s experience when you go to a firm.”

Still others will stay in school to pursue an additional degree, aiming to ride out the recession. Law schools themselves have become a hide-away for recent graduates who are jobless.

Matthew Riojas, acting director of admissions at Loyola, said most law schools have seen admissions rise, largely due to the economy. He declined to give specific figures for Loyola.

Returning to school is one option for Allison Miller, a Pepperdine law graduate. After interning last summer at a Seattle firm, Miller did not receive a job offer and is now considering applying for a federal judicial clerkship or getting a Master of Laws degree.

“I’d have more to offer,” Miller said. “It also buys me a year.”

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