I have two roommates in the McDonough School of Business, and in this recession I have done my best to torment them whenever possible. As I’ve watched their dreams of fast cars and expensive yachts disappear, I have, from time to time, politely left McDonald’s applications on their desks, suggested that they visit the local unemployment office and reassured them that School of Foreign Service students will all need secretaries one day.
I never realized that my career of choice, law, would also be drastically changed by this recession – the current situation has me looking for “help wanted” flyers myself.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or are a former Republican presidential nominee), you appreciate the difficult situation the country is faced with. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke believes that the economic situation may not improve until late 2010. It’s no surprise that many businesses have begun closing their doors to prospective employees and, in some cases, firing recently hired college graduates. This leaves recent graduates with few job prospects and demanding student loans to pay off.
A viable option readily presents itself in graduate school, namely law school, where unemployed students can ride out the recession and hopefully improve their post-recession prospects by collecting advanced degrees.
While on the whole law schools have not seen major increases in application numbers, many D.C.-area schools have seen significant increases in their application pools (the increases have ranged from 8 to 10 percent). This number is still possibly low, considering the recession did not set in until many of the LSAT test cycles had concluded – the number of applicants will likely increase more in the coming academic year. This will likely mean significantly greater competition for admission to America’s law schools for the undergraduate class of 2010. Would-be Clarence Darrows beware.
The notion of an inverse relationship between the health of the economy and law school application numbers is not new; this trend has been observed in the past. There is, however, a distinction in this case. With so many corporations failing, the field of business law is being decimated, diminishing employment opportunities in entire fields of study. Indiana University law professor William Henderson was recently paraphrased in The Wall Street Journal as noting that, “Some large corporate firms may never rebound to their prior size, due partly to contraction in the investment-banking industry and the fact that corporate clients increasingly are fed up by the lofty legal rates charged by elite law firms.”
The legal profession is seeing drastic unemployment after years of steady increases in job opportunities. So far this year, over 2,100 attorneys have been fired, many in the business sector.
If any good news can be gleaned from these dismal statistics, it is that a new era of legal practice may be on the horizon. Many erstwhile multimillion-dollar attorneys now looking for employment have signed on with nonprofits and have even begun doing pro bono work for those who cannot afford counsel in this recession. The legal field is not and may not be as lucrative as it once was, but it seems to be adjusting to tough times for the better.
I don’t intend to scare anyone away from going to law school. My high school coach would call this a “gut check” – time to sit down and consider if the legal profession is what one truly wants to pursue. If you’re in it for the money, you may be disappointed. If you’re in it for job security, sorry.
The legal field is changing dramatically – our current economic troubles might be just what we need to return to the principles of serving the public good and ensuring that justice is rendered equally and thoroughly. As Thomas Paine so eloquently opined, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” If you want to be a lawyer, the question you must ask yourself now is: Are you ready to test yours?
Tim Swenson is a junior in the College, a cadet in Army ROTC and a GUSA senator. He can be reached at swensonthehoya.com. Closing Arguments appears every other Tuesday.
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