Law students face uncertain prospects

BY CHRIS CLARK | APRIL 20, 2009 7:30 AM

It’s crunch time for students in the UI College of Law.

They’re preparing for their last round of finals coming up later this month, but that sweet, “finally done” feeling following the last test may be absent thanks to the economic recession.

In the current financial crisis, Carin Crain, the College of Law’s associate dean of student affairs, said law firms are trying to be more efficient — meaning they are expecting associates to do more work while possibly receiving lower salaries.

Most UI law students traditionally go into private practices after graduation, she said, and the economic crisis is pushing larger firms — sometimes with hundreds of lawyers — to cut back on hiring, while small- and medium-sized ones are more stable.

“A lot of layoffs and recessions are happening at large law firms,” Crain said. “But mid-size and smaller regional firms are finding work.”

During the current recession, she said, most students have a common goal: to find secure employment. The best way to do that, she said, is to begin building a professional reputation by finding employment in law while still in school.

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Daniel Slade knows about the difficulties of a job search. As a law student who is also pursuing a master’s in business administration, he has been searching for a business career, and he hopes his law degree will make him more of a standout.

Since becoming a law student, Slade has had two internships at AEGON, an international insurance and investment company. Despite his dedication to the company, the position he was hoping for after graduation was cut out of the budget when the recession hit.

“I spend countless hours networking, trying to talk to as many people in the company that I can,” he said.

Crain said it’s important for students to keep their minds open when deciding what to do after graduation.

“I am not limiting myself,” said Slade, who told company officials he would be willing to work at AEGON’s headquarters in the Netherlands. “I need to be willing to get a job anywhere. I want to show them I will do whatever it takes to stay with the company.”

Besides making him a more marketable candidate, Slade said his legal training provided him with communication skills required in the field.

“I intentionally trained myself to have a broad range of skills,” he said, and he has planned on getting a law degree and an M.B.A. since he was 16.

Despite seemingly discouraging trends for legal professionals, undergraduate students are still showing interest in attending law schools.

A survey of 1,040 pre-law students at Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions — which offers classes for students preparing for admissions exams — showed 40 percent of LSAT-takers in February applied to law school because of the economic downturn.

For graduating law students, Crain said, her advice is simple and straight-forward.

“Do a great job, remain dedicated, continue to network, and be open to possibilities,” she said. “Employers really like Iowa law students. They bring a legendary work ethic.”

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