After finishing law school at Fordham University, Francisco Pardoof Miami applied for 150 different job openings. He received five interviews.
“The job search process was arduous and daunting but I didn’t expect it to be easy,” Pardo said.
Students graduating with law degrees in the midst of economic turmoil have encountered a less-than-ideal job market. According to new data from the American Bar Association, 55 percent of the Class of 2011 had found full time, permanent jobs working as lawyers nine months after graduating. In 2010, that number was 68.8 percent, then a record low, according to the National Association for Legal Career Professionals. In terms of overall employment, for the Class of 2011 it was 85.6 percent, the National Association for Legal Career Professionals reported last month.
The odds haven’t been that bad since 1994, when the rate was 84.7 percent. Meanwhile, the highest number was in 2007, when overall employment reached a 23-year high of 91.9 percent.
Joe Ankus, legal search recruiter and president of Ankus Consulting, said this is the worst he’s seen in 20 years. His Weston-based company helps legal firms and attorneys across Florida and the U.S. recruit new applicants.
The trends in South Florida mirror those across the nation, said Abbe Mald Bunt, president of Bunt Legal Search in Hollywood.
For Ankus, 47, the problem is simple: “The supply of talented lawyers grossly exceeds the available jobs and I don’t see it changing until the economic structure of the country gets back in shape,” he said.
Though he works mostly with lateral clients, Ankus gives free counseling to recent graduates, teaching them how to effectively network and market themselves. He said he receives between 50 and 75 unsolicited calls a year.
Firms have no shortage of top talent to hire from — every summer a new batch of lawyers graduates from law school. The Florida Bar Association has 93,000 members, while the Dade County Bar Association has approximately 4,500 for example. However, uncertainty over their future has made firms reluctant to hire, Ankus said.
Those that were selective before the economic downturn are even harder to land a job with now.
For students fresh out of law school, it’s created a “perfect storm” of maximum student loans coupled with short-term bleak job opportunities, said Ankus.
Recent statistics show law school debt steadily increasing. According to data from the American Bar Association released in March, law graduates from private schools incur an average of $125,000 in debt, compared to $75,000 for public school grads.
The figures represent an increase from last year — 17.6 percent for private school, 10 percent for public school — the organization reported.
Just 10 years ago, average debt was dramatically lower, the Los Angeles/San Francisco Daily Journal wrote. Between 2001 and 2002, students at public law schools racked up $46,500 in debt, compared to $70,000 for their private school counterparts.
Pardo spends $1,000 a month to pay back his student loans. To alleviate debt, he is looking into Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
The 25-year old attended South Miami Senior High School then George Washington University. Two weeks before graduating from Fordham University School of Law, he accepted a position with the New York City Campaign Finance Board — a job that does not require a law degree.
He said he attended law school with plans of becoming a public servant, not strictly to become a practicing lawyer.
Even students in the top 10 percent of their class are not immune from the stagnant job market.
For starters, law firms have changed the way they hire, said Brad Kaufman, a shareholder at the Palm Beach County office of Greenberg Traurig, an international law firm.
The sour economic climate has given clients “the opportunity to be more astute in terms of their buying power,” Kaufman, 52, said.
“Clients’ tolerance for young inexperienced attorneys has really changed dramatically,” he said. “Clients are really sensitive about having or not having really young inexperienced attorneys working on their matters.”
Law firms, meanwhile, can reach out to judicial clerks and law school alumni associations to recruit new talent, said Mald Bunt.
As a result, recent college graduates have had to be flexible with their plans. While some of still are taking the Bar exam, others have taken different routes.
Alon Alexander turned to entrepreneurship. He said he never interned at a law firm. Instead, he was hard at work with his own business, a New York City-based security company that identifies risks for landlords and developers.
The 25-year old was a student at Dr. Michael M. Krop High School before attending University of Maryland. After graduating, he enrolled at New York Law School in 2009.
During that time he also established his company, Kent Security of New York, which now has $5 million in yearly revenue and employs 200 people. Alexander is contemplating expansion plans for Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia within the next six months.
Alexander is also studying for the Bar exam to leave options open, such as being able to represent his company in legal matters.
Discontent is common at his alma mater, he explained. Last year three graduates sued New York Law School claiming it misrepresented job statistics by including part-time jobs under its percentage of students fully employed post-graduation.
Before enrolling in law school, Pardo expected obtaining job would be an easy feat done quickly.
“I didn’t think I would have to worry about it or put in as much work as I did,” he said. “I was a bit naïve but it worked out in the end.”
Going to law school is a choice Pardo does not regret. It gave him skills that are applicable for many different fields and industries.
“That was the biggest appeal for me,” he said.
Other new lawyers are staying in school, pursuing a master of laws (LLM) degree, Mald Bunt explained.
For graduates able to secure a job at a firm, salary varies according to the firm’s size. Large and national law firms, for example, pay new lawyers anywhere between $100,000 and $140,000, Ankus said.
With smaller to medium-sized firms, on the other hand, “It’s like playing Wheel of Fortune,” Ankus noted. Salaries there can range from $40,000 to $90,000.
His advice for anyone thinking about law school: don’t make the decision based on potential earnings.
“If you’re contemplating law school because you sincerely in your heart and soul want to better our society, I encourage you to go,” he said. “If you’re going because you think it’s a road paved with riches, I would advice you to not go.”
It’s tough to predict when the job market will improve. For young lawyers able to brave the storm, the rewards will be great, Kaufman said.
“If you can find what will turn you on about being a lawyer so you’re willing to gain the skill level that marketplace expects and demands, your future is extremely bright,” he said. “You’re going to be in tremendous demand.”