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September 20, 2014

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Law school graduates face flooded job market

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Southern Nevada’s battered economy is taking a toll on young attorneys just as it is other professions, with graduates of UNLV’s Boyd School of Law entering a job market that has fewer openings and lower starting pay.

A State Bar of Nevada survey published last month of members age 36 or under or who have practiced less than five years found that the most common base salary this year ranges from $80,001 to $85,000, compared with $90,001 to $95,000 in 2007.

The latest survey’s preparers, Las Vegas attorney Ryan Works with the law firm McDonald Carano Wilson, and Layke Stolberg, Boyd’s career services director, said valley law firms are beginning to hire again after going through layoffs that reflected a steep drop-off in business.

“If you are talking about an uptick, it’s an uptick from a very low level,” said Works, outgoing chairman of the bar’s young lawyers section. “The folks who were coming in 2009 and 2010 to get employment were simply stonewalled.

“Now that things have leveled off in terms of the economy, people are starting to rehire,” he said. “I don’t think we will see the rapid, wild growth in hiring that we saw three or four years ago when people were taking on many associates and a bunch of different litigation lawyers.”

But not everyone is on equal footing. Works and Stolberg say attorneys with expertise in bankruptcy law have a better chance of finding work than those who specialize in real estate deals, which have been pummeled by the recession.

“I’ve seen the bankruptcy practices in all the big firms grow,” said Works, himself a bankruptcy specialist.

Another phenomenon of the layoffs is that many newly graduated lawyers find themselves competing for jobs with others who have some experience but who lost their positions during the recession.

“In that market we’re seeing a lot of firms seeking attorneys with one to five years of experience,” Stolberg said. “The thinking might be that these attorneys can hit the ground running.”

But many recent graduates who are well-trained and likable stand as good a chance of getting hired as those attorneys seeking to switch employers, Works said.

“There is something to be said about hiring someone fresh out of law school who is going to probably come in at a lower salary level than a lateral transfer,” he said. “To be frank, there’s a lot of things that a first- or second-year lawyer will do that a lateral attorney won’t do or doesn’t want to do, like legal research and original drafting.”

Despite the tighter job market, Stolberg said most new graduates are still finding employment, though not always in fields of law. Boyd, which had 153 first-year students last school year, saw 93.2 percent of its 2010 graduates get jobs within nine months of earning their degrees. Of those 136 graduates who got jobs, 73 landed positions in private practice, 27 became clerks for judges, 14 went into other businesses, 12 got other government jobs, seven accepted public-interest work and three took academic positions. Still, that was down from a 94.3 percent job-placement rate for 2009 graduates.

Their average starting salary was $71,456, according to the law school. But that was roughly $3,500 less on average than what Boyd’s 2007 graduates earned in their first year out of school.

Likewise, Works said he isn’t surprised that starting salaries for recent graduates who get jobs in private practice are lower than they were before the recession. The most common salary range for those graduates last year was $60,001 to $65,000, about on par with the national average for first-year attorneys.

“We’re not seeing the first-year salaries that lawyers saw coming through the door three, four, five years ago,” he said. “The folks who are employed at this time are lucky to have employment at all. For me it’s such a small job market in town. You have to look around and say that there are only so many legal jobs to go around, and there’s only so many clients to employ those law firms, and a lot of those clients are out of business. A lot of those clients are bankrupt. A lot of those clients moved out of Nevada.”

Law school graduates are not only facing a tight job market, but many are also saddled with enormous student-loan debt. The survey, which had 207 respondents, found that the median debt among them was $60,001 to $70,000. Only 21 respondents said they had no debt.

Stolberg, who grew up in Boulder City, actually thought the median debt would be higher because of her own experience. She attended law school at Boston University, a decision that earned her a degree but also a $90,000 debt, thanks in large part to out-of-state tuition.

“I certainly wasn’t thinking very smartly at the time about what it would be like to pay that off,” she said.

It just so happens that programs and panel discussions Stolberg is preparing for Boyd students and graduates this fall include a speaker who will discuss ways to address student-loan debt.

“We’ll have panels with small and medium-size firms and we’ll have a speaker talking about starting your own solo practice out of law school,” she said. “We’ll also be talking about professional development and the importance of networking.”

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  1. "The most common salary range for those graduates last year was $60,001 to $65,000, about on par with the national average for first-year attorneys"

    LOLOLOLOL Guess the big firms in NY and Chicago weren't included in this "Survey". Hell, legal secretaries almost make that kind of money at firms back east!!

  2. 'The first thing we do is get rod of all the lawyers'

    WIlliam Shakespeare.........400 years ago. It made sense then, and it makes sense now.

  3. 'The first thing we do is get rod of all the lawyers'

    PGelsman -- you almost got it right.

    "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." -- Dick the Butcher in Shakespeare's "Henry The Sixth," Part 2 Act 4, scene 2

    I like Dick the Butcher's version better.

  4. While I will agree that in America Attorneys make for a good joke who is really to blame.

    There is a high number of attorneys in Clark County in relation to the public yet most all of them seem to be making a good living.

    Once we step out of the "joke world" when is the last time you honestly saw an attorney "chase" a client?

    Seems the only reason we have some many attorneys is because there is so many people trying to hit that lawsuit lottery.

    Is it the fault of the Attorneys or is it the fault of the American public?

    That is the real question.

  5. Vegaslee: A fine, thoughtful comment. Aside from you, I wonder if anyone has thought that these law school graduates, or at least considered their endurance, intellect and industriousness to graduate. So many are tarring an entire industry with the same brush and there are many fine attorneys here, as well as nationally. There, obviously is the other side of that coin, but generalization is, in my opinion, just wrong.

  6. "So many are tarring an entire industry with the same brush and there are many fine attorneys here, as well as nationally."

    murrayburns -- right. And what is one's opinion supposed to be after having one's life completely screwed by an attorney? And the ones in the robes are the worst. In my experience the state Bars and judicial commissions are there only to run interference for their members, not protect We the little people.

    When bench and bar return to again respecting their oaths and the rule of law I'll start respecting them.

    "The legal system has also been wounded by lawyers who themselves no longer respect the rule of law ..... When lawyers cannot be trusted to observe the fair processes essential to maintaining the rule of law, how can we expect the public to respect the process?" -- the Honorable Edith Jones to Harvard's Federalist Club "American Legal System Is Corrupt Beyond Recognition, Judge Tells Harvard Law School" 2/28/03

  7. It could be worse, they could have one of the liberal arts degrees which are today almost worthless. Sociologists and those whose prospective employers outside of government are almost nonexistent.

    What we need today and for the next 40-50 years are engineers. Mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic, electrical, electronic, marine, etc.; those who can design, and supervise the production and use of those systems, troubleshoot, repair, install, remove and apply them to any and all industry from computers, to highways, missile systems to pluming, communications to automotive, energy to water delivery and everything you can think of. It's a shame we have to import more than 40% of our engineers from other countries like India, China and Europe.

    The biggest challenges that we must meet are in medical, infrastructure, energy, manufacturing, communications and transportation .. .And education of the sciences. And that's where the job market is and will be most open and most profitable for those who can meet the challenge. It won't be in social services and those jobs that were popular with the government in past decades. During the next decade government will be most concerned with cutting costs and reducing labor as no matter ones political or social beliefs, the money isn't there and won't be there regardless of who's in office, which party is in power or what we all want.

    What we don't need are more lawyers inventing more opportunities to litigate everything in society and business. We don't need more TV commercials for personal injury lawyers enticing us to sue somebody, anybody, just sue... for free money. Need a new car, want an expensive vacation, need to pay off those credits cards and college loans; life style not what you envisioned when younger? Sue anybody, just sue. After all it's free if you win and low cost if you lose.

  8. "What we don't need are more lawyers inventing more opportunities to litigate everything in society and business."

    BRASS -- overall, good post. Like the rest of government, the judiciary has become predatory. Try getting justice in any court -- generally, when you run out of money, you just ran out of rights.

    "[The law] has placed the collective force in the service of those who wish to traffic, without risk, and without scruple, in the persons, the liberty, and the property of others; it has converted plunder into a right, that it may protect it, and lawful defense into a crime, that it may punish it." -- Frederic Bastiat, 1850 "The Law"