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Employment rate for law graduates dips to lowest level since 1996

Friday, June 10, 2011, Pittsburgh Business Times.

Nine months after graduating law school, the overall employment rate for the class of 2010 was 87.6 percent, marking the worst job market since 1996, when 87.4 percent found work, according to a report released last week by the National Association for Law Placement Inc.

That compares with 91.9 percent in 2007, the peak year for graduating law students to find jobs. In 2009, 88.3 percent found jobs.

Just 50.9 percent of 2010’s grads are working in private practice, down five percentage points from 2009, and 15.1 percent were working in business instead of at a law firm, the highest level ever measured by NALP.

NALP Executive Director James Leipold said the negative impact likely will linger.

“Whenever we have a recession like this, there’s a long tail on it for entry-level legal employment,” Leipold said. “The class of 2010 would have entered law school when the economy was falling apart, and they were summer associates in 2009 when things were terrible. They were in a terrible position. The class that follows them is not in much better shape — we know that the recruitment volume for the class of 2011 continued to be quite depressed.”

NALP did not provide regional breakouts. The law schools at the University of Pittsburgh and Duquesne University said their classes of 2010 had employment levels that dovetailed with the national statistics.

Pitt Law School Dean Mary Crossley said 86.6 percent of its 2010 graduates are employed, up slightly from 85.7 percent for the class of 2009. Of those, more than 57 percent are employed at law firms.

“Interestingly, 18 percent of our 2010 graduates are employed in business or industry,” she said. “I wouldn’t say (the 2010 job market) was more difficult than 2009. Law firms had already responded to the recession at that point.”

Ella Kwisnek, assistant dean of students and vice dean of the evening division at Duquesne School of Law, said 89.9 percent of its class of 2010 are employed, flat with 2009, and 56 percent work at law firms.

“It’s still a changing market,” Kwisnek said. “We’re seeing fewer recent graduates employed at larger firms.”

Crossley and Kwisnek both said it was too early to talk about job prospects for the class of 2011.

Gary Hunt, president of the Allegheny County Bar Association and a shareholder of Tucker Arensberg PC, Downtown, said the NALP study was consistent with what he’s seeing locally.

“Absolutely, the recession has had a dramatic impact on the legal profession and it’s hardly surprising that the number of lawyers who are employed nine months after they got out of school is lower than it had been,” Hunt said. “Firms that used to hire large summer associate classes either discontinued or shrunk their programs, so they weren’t hiring large groups of associates just out of law school.”

Hunt believes hiring is picking up.

“But it’s a buyers market,” he said. “We hired a couple just out of law school for clerkships, but almost all were people who had been in the legal profession.”

Tucker’s hiring over the past year largely centered on associates who worked at smaller firms, frequently in surrounding towns, with energy expertise to capitalize on Marcellus Shale activity.

Duquesne and Pitt offered courses on energy and the law last semester, and are making efforts to provide more practical training for law students. Kwisnek said Duquesne is considering a class in gaming law.

Michael Ginsberg, a Jones Day partner based Downtown who oversees its Pittsburgh summer associate program, said the firm maintained hiring at the same levels as before the downturn, locally and nationally. Jones Day also received applications late in the hiring season — and after it — “from students and recent graduates who, based on the institutions they attended and their academic performances, historically would have found private firm employment in the ordinary course,” Ginsberg said.

Reed Smith LLP, Pittsburgh’s second-largest law firm, hired five 2010 law school graduates here, down from eight members of the class of 2009, confirmed spokeswoman Jamie Moss.