Things have been pretty dismal on the law landscape.
Salaries are down, recruiting is down, and morale is down. Deferrals are up and rates of depression are up.
But, things may be turning around. With the last of the layoffs behind us, a return to pre-freeze salary levels, and conservative partner promotions, there is good news to be found. The threat of alternative billing looms, of course, but it will likely be years before any drastic change is implemented.
Silver linings and positive predictions aside, it’s still a horrible time to be in law school.
According to the Internet Legal Research Group, the average law school tuition for the 2007-2008 year was $37,190.
In 2008, the average debt load for graduates of Tier 1 schools was $72,000 and that of Tier 2 schools was $77,000 -- meaning those who were saddling themselves with the most debt had the lesser chance of getting a high-salaried job right out of school. The same year, 42% of graduates earned $65,000 or less, according to NALP.
Combine those statistics with the fact that Dean David Van Zandt and colleagues at the Northwestern Law School recently calculated that for law students to break even, a starting salary of $65,000 is necessary and it's clear: law school is an expensive gamble that is far from guaranteed to pay off (at least financially).
Sure, maybe things will pick up this summer, but so far firms are being cagey about their 2010 summer associate class size and the reason may not be good.
According to NALP, only 36% of class of 2011 students interviewed ended up with summer offers for 2010 (down from 47% in 2008 and 60% in 2007) and the median number of offers was 7 (down from 10 in 2008 and 15 in 2007).
If you were a lucky 2L in 2009 who landed a summer gig, you were less likely to get a job offer. According to NALP, just 69% of summer associates from the class of 2010 received job offers, compared to 90% in 2009 and the lowest rate since NALP started to collect data in 1993.
NALP called 2009 the year of the deferral. Many prominent firms asked (or demanded) that their incoming members take a year off. Firms ponied up as much as $80,000 for associates to defer their start dates.
But that was when people were over-hiring. If you are a 3L this year, chances are your deferral offer will be less sweet. If you are a 2L, it's probably never going to happen for you -- it will just be job or no job.
That means you can forget a year off to tinker in do-goodery at a public interest office or take home $80,000 to spend a year at the beach.
Everyone has to make do with less these days and you are no different.
In the golden days of 2007, associate bonuses ranged from $45,000 - $115,000, or about 22% of total pay for new associates at many firms. In 2008, associates at Cravath and Simpson Thatcher banked just $17,500 - $32,5000, a decline more than 70% from 2007, according to Bloomberg.
2009 numbers were lower at the bottom -- Cravath jumped out first, announcing a by-class year scale ranging from $7,500 to $30,000.
If things reverse course this year as they are predicted to, it is fair to assume year-end bonuses won't take another enormous drop. But it will take years, at least, for bonus levels to return to pre-recession levels.
Thanks to last year's deferral deals, this year's first-year associate class promises to be bloated. Even if you are counting your lucky stars for getting a place in a BigLaw firm, you're still going to be part of a crowded class.
If you like extra competition for your partner's attention and a larger pool of associates to divide the bonus pool among...you really are in luck.
It's common knowledge -- law school is hard. It's a nightmare to get into and a nightmare to get through.
But let's face it, that 'high pass' grade you got is not going to carry weight in the real world. After all, getting good grades in law school is all about intelligently estimating just how smart some of your classmates are and how big of slackers the rest are, right? That's why schools like Harvard and Georgetown designed those 'suggested' grading curves.
All You Wannabe Do-Good Lawyers Have To Compete With Everyone Else Touting Their Alleged Pro Bono Love
As the flock of deferred associates and those without BigLaw offers descended on the public sector, something interesting happened.
Less hours, more effectual work right out of school, and sanity is apparently worth the opportunity cost of giving up on a higher-paying BigLaw gig.
It looks like even the pro bono circuit is getting more competitive.
According to the Wall Street Journal, at any given time about 19% of lawyers experience depression, compared with about 7% of the general population. As well, 20% of lawyers have drinking problems, double the percentage of the general population.
Lawyers had one of the largest drops in perceived honesty and ethics ratings in 2009, according to a Gallup poll released last December, dropping 5% to a total of only 13% of respondents saying lawyers have very high or high levels of honesty and ethics.
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