Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Lawyer Bubble Bursts Big Time

Glenn Reynolds, himself a law professor, posts on the oversupply of young lawyers and the law schools that continue to pump them out. The higher education "bubble" has been a continuing theme of his blog, and the law school portion of it is a big part of that theme.

I have seen this difficult situation show up in my practice never more dramatically than this year. We are seeing highly qualified recent law school graduates, including LLM graduates in estate planning and tax, seeking employment even on an intern (read "free") basis. An estate planning lawyer I know in Broward employs young lawyers on a "contract basis" for $20 per hour. We are wrestling with whether we should hire one of these very attractive people and, if so, at what salary.

I sent the resume of one young man I met recently to an estate planning lawyer in Tampa that I know, a classmate of mine at UChi Law School. Here is a part of his email in response:

What I've seen and heard is nobody is hiring. There are hundreds (probably thousands) of quality law school graduates not getting jobs or being deferred for years. I was up at the Law School last year. It is a major, major problem for the Law School as well as the graduates. We are not really looking for a lawyer, even though we are busy. I will, however, look carefully at the resume you sent, because the young man certainly went to excellent schools.

The young man whose resume I had sent to my Tampa friend had been laid off from a Wall Street firm after being there for over a year. Another young lawyer we are considering was laid off from a prominent So. Florida firm a few months ago - after billing for that firm, he said, 2200 hours last year!

The question I have is this? How much of the reluctance of established lawyers to hire quality graduates is simply fear about the future, rather than a genuine lack of work for them to do? Note that my friend said "we are busy" but not "really looking for a lawyer." We are really busy too. I would be happy being less busy, and so would my clients, who often have to wait and wait for me to complete their work. But this atmosphere of fear and worry in the economy affects even our outlook.

On the other hand, I don't think it can be denied that right now there are too many young lawyers to be absorbed for a good while. I should think that the market will respond to that situation and less people will be seeking admission to law schools who lack a burring desire to be a lawyer at any cost, whose families simply cannot afford another three years or more of education for them, or who understand (as few of them seem to do) what a burden educational debt will be.

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