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Where Are The In-House Attorney Jobs?

Location, location, location…no, not real estate, but in-house law jobs.  Where you are located or where you are seeking a job has a lot to do with the number of in-house attorney jobs available.

Lawjobblog conducted an analysis of organizations advertising in-house counsel jobs as which revealed 987 in-house counsel jobs across 312 cities across the US, and 1227 law firm jobs around the U.S.  When you consider that there are approximately 24,000 unemployed lawyers actively looking for legal work, you start to realize how dismal those numbers are.

California accounts for 22% of counsel jobs and the top five states account for 51%, which include California with 209, New York with 89, Texas with 71, Massachusetts with 60, and Illinois with 54.  Clearly, where you are located makes a difference.  However, just because you are looking in NY or CA does not mean that your odds improve.  In fact, it may be quite the opposite, as both NY and CA have the highest rates of unemployed lawyers in the country, with 7,500 and 3,000 unemployed lawyers, respectively.

If those numbers aren’t scary enough, consider that some 45000 people graduate from law school every year.   Of course, a good number will end up working outside of the law, as there aren’t enough legal jobs to go around.  Only 65.4 percent of law school graduates landed a job that required an attorney license in 2011.

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Are Law Schools and the ABA Contributing to the Unemployment Crisis?

The job market for lawyers is the weakest it has been in the last two decades.  Prospects for 2011 law graduates are bleak.  According to recent statistics from NALP, among law grads whose employment status was known, only 65.4 percent were in jobs requiring bar passage, the lowest percentage ever measured by NALP.

NALP’s executive director stated “the class of 2011 may represent the bottom of the employment curve for this economic cycle.”  Its members were caught up “in the worst of the recession, entering law school in the fall of 2008 just as Lehman Brothers collapsed.”

While only 65.4 percent are finding law-related jobs, the rest of the employment rate for 2011 law school graduates is not much better, with 85.6 percent finding employment, the lowest rate since 1994, when it was 84.7 percent.

With so few law graduates finding legal employment, what are law schools doing about this?

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, some law schools are cutting the size of their incoming classes, a move legal experts describe as unprecedented.  However, of the roughly 200 laws schools accredited in the U.S., only 10 are looking to decrease their incoming classes.  Of those cited, are the University of California's San Francisco-based Hastings College of the Law, a top-tier school, Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago ranked 12th in the country by U.S. News & World Report, and George Washington University Law School, ranked 20th by U.S. News.

Why are so few law schools cutting their incoming classes?

The answer is simple: money.  Paul Schiff Berman, dean of the George Washington University Law School, ranked 20th by U.S. News, says the school, which enrolled about 480 students in 2011, hasn't decided how many slots would be cut for the incoming class, but he estimates the reduction would cost the school about $1 million.

Law schools are considered profit centers at many universities.  If incoming classes are cut, where will they find the money lost from these cuts?  Law students are finding themselves caught in a Machiavellian spiral.  On the one hand, law schools are profiting from large classes, and on the other, law grads are struggling to find employment.  Where does the responsibility lie?

Law schools don’t seem as worried about the employment prospects of their graduates as they are about their pocketbooks.  Even those that are considering cutting back incoming classes are not making significant reductions.  Hastings College of the Law announced a reduction of 1,000 from 1,300 in phases over the next three years.  100 less law graduates per year?  A drop in the bucket.  But Hastings is looking at cuts that could cost the school $9 million.  Now you get the picture.

That said, law schools are not alone in taking on the blame.  The ABA has contributed to churning out more law graduates than the market can bear, with no signs of slowing down.  According to the Wall Street Journal, the number of law graduates per year spiked to 44,495 this year from 42,673 in 2006, and the American Bar Association accredited 10 new law schools over the same period.

These 10 new law schools are not Harvard-type law schools either, so you can guess how marketable those law school graduates will be one they are ready to hit the job market.  Why the ABA would help worsen the job market by increasing the number of law graduates is hard to comprehend.
Moreover, one could argue that second and third tier law schools have more of a responsibility to cut their class sizes than top tiered law schools.  With exception of some of those at the best schools, going for a law degree today is simply a bad investment.  Well, those lower tiered law schools don’t seem to agree.

Thomas M. Cooley Law School, the largest in the nation, with 3,700 students, which has campuses in Michigan and recently expanded into Florida, is not interested in reducing the size of its entering class on the basis of the perceived benefit to society, arguing that they meet ABA requirements. "Cooley's mission is inclusiveness," adds Mr. Robb, who says he worries reducing class sizes could disproportionately affect minority students.
How noble.  I am sure those same law graduates will feel very included as they line up together in the unemployment line.  Luckily for these minority students, Thomas M. Cooley Law School is generously willing to give them the “opportunity” to be straddled with debt with little opportunity to pay it off.

Law grads are hitting the pavement with more debt.

Law students in the class of 2015 will rack up an average of $210,265 in law school debt, according to Law School Transparency, a non-profit group that provides law education information to prospective law students.  As for the class of 2016, the group estimates that students will accrue an average of $216,406 in debt.  The upward trend in law school debt is astonishing.

In an economic market where salaries are decreasing and opportunities are dwindling, how do law schools justify these increases?  When you consider the extreme belt tightening measures that private businesses have been taking to cut down their costs, one has to wonder what type of economic cutbacks law schools have been taking.

Together with the ABA, law schools are churning out more graduates, increasing student debt, and pumping more job seekers in a market that’s already saturated, with little care of how these graduates will fare.  In an industry that stresses ethics and moral responsibility, this type of behavior is highly questionable.  The worst part is that there does not seem to be an end in sight to this vicious cycle.

What’s the answer?

Should the ABA and law schools be penalized? Of course law school applicants may share some of the responsibility, but law schools and the ABA are the ones responsible for turning them into jobless graduates.  They are enablers that are contributing to the unemployment crisis amongst legal professionals.  Should we have regulations placing limits on the number of accredited law schools and law graduates? Scrape the ABA with an organization that is free of conflicts of interest? Or trust the market?

We’ve tried the market approach, and the adjustments are not helping turn back the numbers.  Today’s law graduates are carrying more than $200,000 in debt, and with 50% privileged enough to make between $45K and $60K per year, they are unlikely to dig themselves from under their debt.  Perhaps it’s time to consider other options, including government intervention.

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Do It Yourself Recruiting

The trend isn’t new, but in this economy, it’s not uncommon to see companies resort to “Do It Yourself Recruiting.”  After all  “Why should I use a recruiter and pay a fee for a job I can do on my own?”  The sentiment is that there are so many job seekers out there that it can’t be that hard to find talent.  You can choose a DIY recruiting solution, but the reality is that it’s not always the cheapest or easiest solution.  In fact, you may come up empty handed.

A Tale of DIY Recruiting Gone Wrong...

Recently, we received a call from a director of human resources at a growing company who tried the "DIY" approach to legal recruiting.  She had been tasked with recruiting for a replacement General Counsel, and decided that she would go ahead and handle the recruiting herself.  She posted the job on several websites and quickly started to receive resumes…a lot of resumes!

The sheer bulk of the resumes received took this director and her staff more than fifty percent of their time to review and process.  Rather than being able to handle their day-to-day responsibilities, they soon found themselves strapped with the enormous task of going through hundreds of resumes, not to mention follow-up calls and emails from anxious applicants waiting to hear back on the status of their submissions.  

Then came the troubling reality that after sifting through hundreds of resumes and applications, few seem to be a match, at least on paper.  Next came the calls to the few applicants they had selected.  It soon became clear that none turned out to be a good match – as they unearthed issues related to skill set, personality fit, salary considerations, relocation, references, etc.

In short, after conducting their “DYI Recruiting” they came up empty handed, and the executives were getting increasingly anxious.  By the time the human resources director called, they needed someone “yesterday,” and had been spinning their wheels for the past three months.  With seemingly so many candidates available, what went wrong?

Can You Tell The Difference Between a Good and a Great Lawyer?

The “DIY” approach is great when the stakes aren’t high.  In other words, if the position is not critical to your company, and you can spend months going through endless resumes, then it might work out for you, if you’re lucky.  DIY has its limitations and risks. Anyone can review a resume against a set of requirements, yet few people, except for lawyers and legal recruiters, have the expertise or the time to fully go through the resumes and understand what those skills are and how to properly evaluate them.  In other words, I could not tell you a good medical specialist from a mediocre one based on a resume and job description alone.  Could you?

Legal recruiting is a specialized field; dedicated professionals build entire careers around it. It takes more than writing a job description and posting it on a job board to hire a talented professional.  As DIY recruiter, you might understand that your company is looking for someone with M&A experience, but can you evaluate one M&A deal from another? Do you understand the financing aspects of a purchase?  Do your candidates? How much did they contribute to the deal?  Are they paper pushers or strategists?  Can you tell the difference?

Are You Passively Collecting Resumes of Actively Targeting Candidates?

The reality is that bulk of any recruiting effort does not involve posting a job and waiting for the phone calls and resumes to pour in.  In fact, passive recruiting often yields very little results.  You often get the resumes of job seekers you are desperate to get back into the job force and will tailor their resumes to any job just to get their foot in the door.  Successful legal recruiting is the result of professional networking and technical understanding; knowing the right players in the industry, identifying and seeking out the right talent for a specific opportunity within a specific company, and properly evaluating a candidate’s technical skills.

Recruiting is not only about being able to review a resume; it’s about digging deep into a candidate’s background, skills, and motivations to determine if they are a good fit.  Effective legal recruiters spend a great deal of time screening candidates, gaining an understanding of their credentials, experience, skill, abilities, style, salary history, motivation, and personality fit as it relates to the company that is hiring.  They will do this process many times over and only send the viable candidates that match the company fit.  A hiring manager may only see a few candidates from a recruiter, but that recruiter has most likely sorted and interviewed dozens in the process.   An internal recruiter seldom has the time or resources to do this.

Are You Selling This Opportunity Based on Your Market Knowledge?

Legal recruiters don’t only screen and source candidates; they also sell the company and the position.  They seek out to fully understand the unique selling points of the company and the position to effectively relate them to candidates and create a level of interest that will continue through the offer stage.  This is called “pre-closing.”  The best candidates aren’t simply looking for a job they are seeking “opportunities.”  It can take great finesse and communication skills to make that connection.  It also takes a great deal of knowledge of the legal market to be able to provide an accurate representation of the position as it relates to other opportunities.  Savvy candidates can tell the difference between a baseless pitch and one based on market knowledge and understanding.

How Well Do You Know In-House Salaries and Comparable Compensation?

Market knowledge also means understanding compensation. Often DIY internal recruiters base salary on what a predecessor was earning; or when there was none, on budget considerations.  Often, they go in blind, without a real understanding of what “market” compensation is for the type of candidate they are seeking to hire.

When salary comes into play, as it always does, a legal recruiter can educate all parties about the numbers and trends for their industry and location.  As legal recruiters this is all that we do; we study the job market and speak with hiring companies and employed professionals constantly.  As a result, we can share figures that accurately reflect market conditions, and work with internal recruiters to modify a candidate’s profile to match compensation requirements as well.  This eliminates the need to second-guess what a workable package can consist of, having to cut discussion short with good candidates because compensation is not up to par, or wasting time or candidates in drawn out salary negotiations.

In Other Words...

Next time you are thinking about DIY legal recruiting, think about what it's going to take to deliver the right hire to your company.  My grandmother said it best, "the cheapest solutions often turn out to be the most expensive."  For anyone who has attempted to be a weekend warrior and try DIY solutions, you might know exactly what I mean.  Do it right the first time, and hire professionals to do the job.

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