Recession Hammering Law Firms But Not Law Schools

By Staff
July 29, 2009

Despite mounting student costs, shrinking job prospects and receding salaries, law school applications are on the rise.

The Clarion Ledger in Mississippi reports that according to the American Bar Association, law school applications have increased 4.3 percent over last year. At Mississippi College's School of Law, applications have gone up by 14 percent.

"While some of the increase may be attributed to the economy, there remains a strong interest in studying law," explained Pat Evans, MC Law's assistant dean for admissions.

Yet experts note that the recession is clearly taking its toll on the profession. The Center for Career Strategy & Advancement at Northwestern University's School of Law reported that the country is "amidst a decline in law firm revenue and the demand for legal services." Even as more law schools step up efforts to assist with job placement, the center reported that some law firms, responding to a lack of business, have reduced their compensation packages.

"It's been really frustrating," noted Lindsey Tew Simmons, a MC Law School graduate who is taking the bar exam this week. "You go into law school expecting to come out with this really good, high-paying job and they're just not there."

The lack of work at law firms has spurred an unexpected rise in pro bono hours, reports The National Law Journal. A survey conducted by the Pro Bono Institute at Georgetown University Law Center determined that pro bono hours increased by 13 percent in 2008 in 135 firms involved in the institute's Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge. Moreover, earlier findings by The American Lawyer indicated that law firms spent more time in 2008 on pro bono work than ever before.

"The reason that lots of people would give [for the increase in pro bono hours] is the slowdown in work," explained Esther Lardent, president and chief executive officer of the institute. "People certainly saw that slowdown in the last six months of 2008. But this time firms wanted to keep people engaged and have them learn new skills through pro bono."

Yet she also credited the trend to more organized law firm pro bono efforts. "We're seeing a different attitude about pro bono," she noted. "Firms are being much more proactive. They're taking on big-time signature projects."

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