Photo by Sam Mgrdichian
A new survey reveals that a record number of new law grad jobs have been impacted by COVID-19. We take look at how grads, employers, law schools, and others are trying to bounce back.
Securing a job after law school is arduous. Candidates can usually expect multiple rounds of interviews for BigLaw positions, a long vetting process for judicial clerkships, and a detailed project proposal for public interest fellowships. The law school class of 2019 did well at the outset, with nearly 81% securing full-time employment after graduation—up 3% from the previous year. In fact, until this spring, the percentage of law graduates securing full-time employment increased substantially over the past six years, finally rebounding from the Great Recession.
Unfortunately, in recent months, COVID-19 has “upended the economy and the legal industry,” in an entirely new way. According to a new survey by the National Association for Legal Placement (NALP), a significant number of 2020 law graduates reported that their job offers would be postponed or rescinded due to the global pandemic.
Offers were most frequently rescinded in private practice—85% of schools reported at least one graduate with a rescinded offer from the private sector. Additionally, 50% of law graduates do not have an employment start date. For those that do have start dates, almost two-thirds of them will not begin work until 2021. To further complicate matters, US jurisdictions can’t seem to get on the same page about how to license new law graduates to practice, creating added layers of challenge and complexity for recent law school graduates who are eager to start practicing law.
The Class of 2020 Faces an Uphill Battle
“The job market is beyond grim, and then they are in this no man’s land.”
- Hank Greenberg, New York State Bar Association President (via The Wall Street Journal)
In recent months, plenty have weighed in on the challenges recent law graduates face. Sharing his concerns about this class’s job prospects and bar exam complications with the Wall Street Journal, New York State Bar Association President, Hank Greenberg, said, “[t]he job market is beyond grim, and then they are in this no man’s land.” Matthew Bradley, who recently graduated from Notre Dame School of Law, also shared his anxieties, “[i]f it got postponed, frankly, I don’t know what I would do… I have lots of bills to pay. It would create a domino effect on my future. I don’t think anyone in the class of 2020 is feeling very optimistic right now.”
Online, recent graduates share similar concerns. Clint Carlisle, a recent graduate from Brooklyn Law School, recently tweeted, “… my law firm just pushed my start date to ‘early 2021’ which means no income, no health insurance, and no stability for another 6+ months.”
Unsurprisingly, this year's law school graduates aren’t as concerned with whether or not they will have the luxury-level perks or prestige that sometimes come with more competitive job placements. Instead, most are simply hoping for health insurance (given the current global health crisis) and enough income to cover student loan repayments and other necessities.
Resources, Relief, and Advocacy
Though times are tough, there’s hope. The Great Recession seems to have taught the legal community a few lessons. Law firms and other legal employers are already finding ways to adapt to this year’s crisis that don't leave graduates completely in the lurch. 69% of law offices surveyed by NALP are offering deferral packages to first-year associates whose employment start dates were postponed due to COVID-19. There are also various loan repayment assistance programs, mostly administered by law schools, state bar associations, and federal and state governments, that provide debt relief to some law school graduates.
Many recent grads are also looking at legal technology and legal staffing companies for work. While positions offered from these organizations may feel like a departure from the plan, they also allow new lawyers opportunities to gain experience within their chosen field without working at a law firm, in-house counsel department, or governmental agency. There are also crowd-sourced resources like the Law Job Resources project, which compiles job and internship listings, legal skills development tools, job search guides, advice, and other resources for job seekers.
As far as the bar exam is concerned, the debate continues over whether or not most states will proceed with in-person or online exams, or instead opt for emergency diploma privilege. Advocates for diploma privilege point out how bar exam conditions, like the pandemic in general, will disproportionately create barriers for underrepresented groups in law. However, several states, including Oregon, Washington, Louisiana, and Utah, have now granted emergency diploma privilege to at least some bar candidates.
For additional job search resources, check out these articles published by the American Bar Association, including Who Will Find a Quality Job This Year? Advice for Law Grads and 3Ls and Entry Level Legal Jobs and Career Resources. For bar exam status updates by state, check the NCBE site. For more on diploma privilege updates, check out the United for Diploma Privilege site, organized by recent law graduates advocating for diploma privilege.