Thursday, December 16, 2010



Back in the early 1990’s, when I attended law school, most students were pretty confident that they would land jobs upon graduation. The placement rate of over 90% back then, seemed to at least guarantee an income, if not a dream job.
I have been blessed in many ways, and have run my own plaintiff injury firm for over a decade now. However, I was surprised to learn that the National Association for Law Placement reported the 2009 placement rate to remain at an astounding 88.3%. I am surprised it is that high, and I was quite skeptical of that number.
In fact, that number turned out to be misleading. More than 30% of the 88.3% employed are actually working either temporary or part time jobs. There is no telling how many of the others may be considered “under employment.”
There are several trends that make jobs much more scarce for the new lawyer out there today.
First of all, I have watched one insurance company after another take their lawyers “in house.” This term means that they hire attorneys on salary to handle most matters. While larger or more complex litigation may be “jobbed out” to a traditional defense firm, much of that work dries up. These larger firms are the very ones who often hired interns during the summer and even had hiring tables set up in the lobby of the law schools. No more.
There is also the role of mediation. While I am a Rule 31 Listed General Civil Mediator by the Tennessee Supreme Court, I also recognize that the reduction it provides in litigation hurts defense lawyers out there.
Thirdly, so-called “tort reform” measures threaten both plaintiff lawyers and defense firms. Caps on judgments and various restrictions lessens risks to wrong doers who use larger firms.
Both political parties in Washington, D.C are constantly tossing around tax policy like the proverbial hot potato. Smaller law firms declare all income as personal, and therefore may find themselves in higher tax brackets. It is these small businesses that provide many jobs for paralegals, receptionists, assistants and lawyers. Without clarity of what the tax burden will be, many smaller firms are unwilling to hire more staff.
The law schools are still churning out 100’s of newly minted J.D.’s each year. Many have costly student loans to repay. Some who will graduate in the next couple years actually only went back to school to “wait out” the recession. Thus, there will be a further surge of hungry souls out here ready to travel to exciting cities, meet interesting people, and sue them.
Finally, the advent of television advertising has greatly increased competition for plaintiffs’ injury cases of all kinds. This can decrease margins for struggling firms and restrict hiring even further.
In general, unless you are called to practice, do not consider law school. Academically, financially and socially, law school is quite a challenge. And, with no assurance that you will even get a job interview, it is even less attractive.