Legal Job Market Affected By Economic Downturn

By Staff

March 10, 2009

Across the country, law firms are responding to the recession by slashing budgets and laying off employees, while law school students about to graduate are voicing concern about dwindling job prospects.

The Atlanta-Journal Constitution reports that according to the National Law Journal, major law firms laid off about 1,100 attorneys in February. Last Thursday, New York's Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, one of the country's largest firms, terminated employment for 55 lawyers and 100 staff members. Moreover, King & Spalding, one of the Atlanta's oldest and largest law firms, laid off 37 lawyers and 85 staff on Friday.

"The continuing decline in the U.S. and global economies has unfortunately made it necessary for us to make some reductions in our lawyer and staff ranks," said Robert D. Hays, chairman at King & Spalding.

Students about to enter the legal job market are feeling the pressure. The MetroWest Daily News in Massachusetts reports that many students are concerned about securing employment and paying off their debts.

"It has definitely been a pretty dramatic shift in the economy and the job market since we went into law school," said Boston College law student Kelly Reardon. "People keep saying it is not a good time to graduate. It is a tough situation. There are a lot of people who didn't think they would be looking for jobs this late in the game who are still looking."

Randi Friedman, associate dean and director of Northeastern University School of Law's career service center in Boston, noted that besides layoffs at major firms, clerkships with judges in the state court system are not being offered to new graduates. In the past, 50 to 60 would be offered clerk jobs in the system.

"These are scary times for law students," Friedman said. "They have incurred a lot of debt, and even if they get a job it may not pay a lot."

In a related article, The Washington Post reports that some lawyers are responding to the recession by creating "virtual" law firms which do business mainly over the phone and Internet and through video conferencing. By forgoing the cost of paying for associates and a brick-and-mortar office, these lawyers offer clients substantial savings compared to what they paid before.

"Everyone realizes the big law firm model is broken," noted Geoff Willard, a Virginia lawyer who works from his home as a partner in Virtual Law Partners. The firm has grown from eight partners in June to 33, and the firm expects to make a profit once it has 50 lawyers.

Willard remarked that the firm has allowed him to cut down on his hours, spend more time with his family, and keep a greater percentage of what he generates. "I have clawed back a significant part of my life," he told The Post.

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