UI law grads finding jobs despite economy

BY ALY BROWN | JUNE 18, 2012 6:30 AM

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Though a recent employment report paints a bleak picture for graduating law students, University of Iowa College of Law officials say the job market in Iowa is more forgiving.

The Association for Legal Career Professionals released a report earlier this month showing a decline in national employment rates for law-school graduates nine months after graduation.

Roughly 86 percent of new law-school graduates nationally gain employment after graduation — the lowest since 1994, according to Selected Findings from the Employment Report and Salary Survey for the Class of 2011.

Karen Klouda, the director of career services at the UI law school, said the state of Iowa was not as affected as larger urban areas and that many firms were forced to dissolve in New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

"Iowa firms are stable but cautious," she said. "There are plenty of jobs out there for our graduates if they want to stay in the state."

Klouda said more students are finding work in smaller Iowa towns including Oelwein, Fort Dodge, and Humboldt. Students' values changed after they saw classmates at large firms suddenly without a job, she said.

"They want more job security, which allows for a better quality of lifestyle," she said. "They want a balance of personal time and work."

According to the Klouda, UI law-school statistics for the class of 2011 show 99 percent of graduates found employment nine months after graduation.

Nick Dial, a recent UI law graduate, said the work search environment is tough, yet he is seeing his classmates find success.

"More of my classmates have been more successful," he said. "Maybe it's because we saw it coming."
Dial was hesitant to discuss his personal work search in detail, but he said his class is seeing more success than the report suggests.

"We went to a good law school with good training and a high bar pass percentage," he said. "We are doing pretty well. I know plenty of my classmates who have jobs."

Dial said he is looking for employment in Iowa.

"Here, the environment is so different and it is different even from city to city," he said. "My classmates in Los Angeles are in a completely different boat than those in Chicago."

Klouda said the low national employment rate is expected.

"The job market is pretty flat," she said. "We are not seeing a dramatic decline, but it has remained a steady low since 2009."

The national employment rate has fallen more than 6 percentage points since 2007, when the employment reached a 23-year high of 91.9 percent, according to the report. Since 1985, there have been only three other national graduating classes with an overall employment rate below 85.6 percent. All three immediately followed the 1990-1991 recession.

Graduated students, regardless of employment, still have to face heavy debt loads after law school.
Susan Palmer, the UI law school's financial-aid manager, said she sees more law students becoming more cautious when taking out loans.

"I think students are paying more attention to debt," she said. "They aren't just signing papers, and I think that is a good idea for all students."

Palmer said the Iowa Law School Foundation board is aware of growing student debt and offers more loan repayment and financial-aid programs.

The board began offering a loan-repayment-assistance program in 2008 for law school alumni working in public-service positions, including education and social work, as well as a program specifically for Iowa lawyers.

"The board is very cognizant of our alumni who have debt," she said.

Some at the UI law school see a time of change for the law profession, not a spiral downward.

"Change is frightening, but it offers opportunities for improvement," Klouda said.

Dial said he sees the transition in the types of jobs available in the law field.

"It doesn't mean there aren't jobs — it just means the jobs are different or more difficult to find," he said. "The entire world economy is in transition. Lawyers represent their clients, especially during events of transition."

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