Legal Careers in North America

The Bright Legal Market of 2015

Andy had been keeping up with the poor state of the U.S. legal market a few years ago, and it seems like a good idea to continue his efforts. The recent positive U.S. job report for January 2016 had some minor bad news for the legal profession: a loss of 1,400 lawyers, or 0.12% from December.

But the sour news was completely offset by the 95 percent of law students who spent last summer clerking at a law firm and received an offer to work full-time at the firm after graduation. Read about it here, but the takeaway is that the effect of the ’08 recession was over last year, partially because the law school bubble has finished it’s big pop:

The 95 percent offer rate was up from 93 percent in 2014, and a marked increase from the low of 69 percent in 2009.

Leipold noted that with first-year law school enrollment having fallen by more than 15,000 nationwide over the past five years, law firms are seeing more competition for the top candidates simply because schools are producing fewer graduates.

So long as the January’s (… and February’s) stock market, oil plunge, emerging market trifecta doesn’t spin the United States into another recession in 2016 … it might be time to again start thinking of an American J.D. as a safe investment in the future. But don’t tell your friends.

cropped-tokyo_university_entrance_exam_results_6.jpg

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Alternatives to Legal Careers Guide (Univ. of Ariz.)

 

The truth is, many of these jobs need a J.D. about as much as Springfield needed a monorail.

I have to admit, I always found the whole “You can do anything with a law degree!” argument coming out of law school Admissions and Career Services offices among the most dubious tricks in their bag.

To deny that the constant pleadings that “You can do anything with a law degree” are part sales pitch, part vain attempt to incentivize students to stay the course and help keep that tuition money flowing is ludicrous. It’s definitely part of the scheme. Hell, my law school had a whole week dedicated to speakers on “alternative careers.” I believe they called it something like “Thinking Outside the Box,” and had folks from various industries who had J.D.s but weren’t actually practicing law come in and speak.

Of course, for lesser ranked schools, the “You can do anything with a law degree” tack is a touch inaccurate. It should more likely be said that “You’re not going to be able to practice law anyway, so start thinking of something else now.”

So, yes, whenever an administrator (or student lemming) starts in with the flexibility of the J.D. thing, I can’t help but feel a little sad for their plight. The administrator simply doesn’t know what to do anymore (legal jobs were tough enough to get pre-financial crisis, and most CSO’s today have either gotten creative or simply thrown their hands up), and the student has been had: hook, line, and sinker.

But, that’s not to say that alternative careers aren’t out there. They should simply be treated along the same lines as they are titled: they are an “alternative” to practicing law. If you’re going to law school for an alternative career, I think you’re making the wrong decision. If you’re going to law school hoping to practice law and discover that either (1) practicing law isn’t your thing and you’re too far in to get out; or (2) given your ranking in the law school strata you’re likely going to be unable to practice law immediately, then an alternative career can be a saving grace.

living-in-a-box-11

Perhaps more appropriate would have been: “Living Inside A Box: You’re Probably Screwed.”

The truth is that I can’t rail against alternative careers too much, as my law school outcome has been in the “alternative” bracket, at least for now. I certainly didn’t spend another 3 years and ton of money with an alternative career in mind, though. And neither should you.

That said, what alternative careers are out there for legal eagles? The University of Arizona has compiled a brief 22-page guide on possible alternative careers, possible salaries, and pointers and seeking out jobs that are not necessarily part of the legal sphere.

Another way to prepare for alternative career job hunting is to tap into (or create, if you’re behind the ball) your network. An in-house position interview is different from a law firm interview, which will be different from an interview with an accounting firm or investment bank. Having experienced individuals you can contact to help advise or prepare you for job searches in fields outside of legal can be invaluable.

The University of Arizona Guide can be found here.

ABA commentary can be found here.

ATL commentary can be found here.

68.4% Employment for Class of ’10.

It seems like just yesterday I advised any law student to take a Sharpie and black out the part of U.S News & World Report where it talks about new graduates achieving 98%-100% employment.

Oh. Wait. It was.

NALP (an association that compiles all variety of legal employment statistics) just came out with its selected findings for the class of 2010 (those graduating last May). The numbers are as ugly as one might expect.

Only 68.4% of 2010 law school graduates had jobs that required them to take and pass a bar exam. Another 10% or so had jobs that were “J.D. preferred”. The odds are still better than betting $100k on red at the roulette wheel, but this is the lowest it’s ever been. Light still doesn’t seem to be at the end of the tunnel, either.

The NALP findings in full are available here.

[UPDATED: Things are looking better for 2016]

DISCO’s Boston CF 2011 is up

Each year, DISCO holds a massive Career Forum in Boston for English/Japanese bilinguals (in addition to other job fairs in LA, London, and Tokyo).

A run-down on what DISCO can mean for JET alums turned JD students has already been covered by JETs with J.D.s, and is available here.

The Boston career forum is truly massive, and a good opportunity for anyone considering going in-house, or getting in-house experience. Even if you’re a rising 2L trying to figure out what you can do your 2L summer (and are worried you won’t be able to secure the coveted McLaw Summer Associate position), Boston may present opportunities for you this November, and DISCO has recently opened the page for this fall’s CF for applications. The number of participating companies should grow over time, so keep an eye out for companies looking for a J.D. candidate.

Building a resume on CFN can take some time, so starting early would be advisable.

The page with this fall’s Boston Career Forum can be found here.

 

What’s up with the legal market?

For JET alums trying to make out what exactly is up with legal education and the legal market: the Economist just had a great article that lays it all out. For frequent readers, this should be nothing you haven’t heard before: the financial crisis killed a lot of jobs, and the delay in a legal market recovery is hampered by outsourcing and clients clinging a little closer to their pocketbooks and not wanting to pay young associates.

20110507_bbp002The article, in full, is here.

[UPDATED: Things are looking better for 2016]

 

Disco’s Career Forum, for JETs with J.D.s

Disco Stu likes DISCO jobs

Every year, Boston welcomes the largest Japanese-English bilingual job fair known to man. The job fair is run by DISCO International, and is otherwise known as the Boston Career Forum. Career forums are also held in Tokyo, London, and Los Angeles throughout the year– but Boston is easily conceded as the largest of these.

This forum is something I wish I had known about earlier as a law student, because a large number of Japanese and multinational employers show up (this year, 132 of them did), and some of them are actually looking to fill vacancies in their legal department, or for whatever other reason are willing to look at J.D. candidates and J.D. holders. The distinct advantage about this career fair, moreover, is that for perhaps the only time in your law school career, you’re not competing with a horde of fellow students en masse, but only those students who have the requisite language skill (not so many), and only those who have been willing to make the journey (even fewer).

While I was skeptical as to whether this large job forum would help me at all (as it seemed largely aimed at undergrads, MBA’s, and engineers) I was able to walk away from Boston having had a number of interviews and a couple positive leads on the job search. Below, I will briefly relay my experience, suggestions, and advice for any JET pursuing a J.D. who might be considering a trip to Boston next fall.

Preliminary Matters

(1) If you want to work for a law firm and a law firm only – the remainder of this post is largely useless to you. Your time would be better spent looking at these vintage (and hilarious) Tokyo subway posters.

(2) If you are below Conversational level Japanese (generally, JLPT 3級 = Conversational), DISCO won’t let you in. So you’ll either have to lie or improve your Japanese ability. I advise the latter.

Preparation

I heard of DISCO and the Boston Career Forum from another JET alum who went to law school and found his first post-graduation job in-house, with a Japanese company, through DISCO. When I first heard about DISCO from this alum (in July), I immediately went to their site and found that information about the Boston Career Forum, and prospective employers, was already posted and some employers were already accepting application submissions. Currently, DISCO does not have information up about its 2011 Career Forums, but it is only a matter of time.

Regardless, I would advise setting up a profile on DISCO’s site sooner rather than later. In setting up a profile, you are given the option of setting up an English and a Japanese resume. I suggest you do both– as some employers will accept the Japanese one only, and others the English one only. Depending on your Japanese ability, this can take next to no time at all, or can be quite time consuming, and you’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to proofread both before you start applying for positions.

Applying to Interviews Before the Career Forum

All your applications for the Career Forum will require one of the resumes you set up through DISCO. That’s usually the easy part of applying to an employer. In addition to the resume, employers can also ask supplemental questions – to be filled out in only English, only Japanese, or either. These questions also tend to impose character limitations. Again, you’ll want time to plan ahead and draft well-written, grammatically correct answers to these questions – which is why I advise you start preparation early.

These supplemental questions also allow employers to vet applicants according to their language ability. DISCO requires you to rank your language ability along traditional JLPT categorizations (Elementary, Conversational, Business, Native), but if your answers to the supplemental make you look like you’re struggling at 4級, and you’re posturing yourself as a Native-speaker, don’t expect too much.

Some employers throw additional hurdles into the application process. This is particularly true of the accounting firms and investment banks. Accounting firms will generally require you fill out an application off of their home site in addition to the one you do for the Career Forum. Investment Banks usually request likewise, and may throw a timed mathematical reasoning test into the mix.

As the Career Forum gets closer, more employers will join in. Even up to the last few days before the Career Forum, new employers were appearing on the list, and accepting applications for interviews. So again, if you plan on going, you should check early and often.

By the date of the Career Forum, I had lined up four interviews in advance, with one (1) investment bank, one (1) accounting firm, and two (2) Japanese multinational companies. All of them were interviewing for their Tokyo offices.

EDITED TO ADD (01/24/2011): Acquiring interviews prior to going to Boston provides you two other advantages: (1) Arranging interviews in advance makes you more likely to receive a travel scholarship from CFN; (2) Arranging interviews in advance may allow you to access travel funds from your law school to be used for traveling to interviews.

Applying for Interviews AT the Career Forum

Submitting for interviews while you are at the Career Forum is also a realistic possibility. While I was in Boston, I was able to gain interviews with a few other employers, including another accounting firm.

Resumes

No employer will tell you this, but they are typically open to receiving both English and Japanese resumes. From my experience, I highly advise bringing copies of a Japanese resume with you in tow. Many of my interviewers looked a bit nervous to be interviewing me with the English resume they received from DISCO. When I pulled out the Japanese resume I prepared ahead of time, there was a visible (albeit concealed) sigh of relief and I became a small hero in their eyes – always a good way to start the interview.

Note that Japanese resumes tend to have a different format than Western resumes, and involve a lot less “grandstanding” of your accomplishments. Samples are here. A template is available here.

Interviews

Much like JET, my interview experiences were ESID. One was with a guy who spoke fluent English and ultimately gave an impression of being a bit more high-pressure than most law firm interviews. The remainders were conducted in a mix of Japanese and English. Some were basic resume review, others were more conversational.

For some interviews I had to fill out additional paperwork before going in, for others I did not.

For a good number of my interviews, JET was treated as an overall positive on my resume. Others didn’t mention it. At the very least, I can say it wasn’t greeted with a head tilted to the side and air-sucking through the teeth.

Like any other interview, I highly suggest going in with a game plan to handle the variations the interview process can take. Enlisting the help of a Japanese confidante or teacher would be a good idea as well.

Post-Career Forum Contact

To e-mail thank you notes or not? Assuming your interview was positive, a friend of mine suggests the following:

My short answer is that I would send a thank you e-mail or thank you letter as you would with any other person who would interview you, expressing your great interest in learning more about [the Company]. If you have Japanese writing skills, or thought that the interviewer might have doubts about your ability to function in a written Japanese environment, you might take the opportunity to showcase those skills.

For the good interviews I had, I did likewise. I do not feel they necessarily helped or hindered my application in any sense, but those thank you’s at least indicate you are still open and ready to converse.

Again, like the interviews, the process in discussing employment with companies after Boston was very ESID. For some employers, I heard responses quite quickly. For others, I am still in ongoing conversations with them, and this is three months after the initial interview. For legal departments in Japanese companies, a colleague of mine offers the following amount of lead time before you get a response:

I’d give [them] 4 weeks to get back to you. From my experience with Japanese companies, the guy you talked to would report in writing/orally through his chain in the HR department, then the HR department would report in writing to the other departments. The other department might take a week or so to respond to HR. (I can imagine that the legal department might not have expected to receive an application from someone like you. It might take a little bit of time for the legal department to warm up to you.)

Again, while four weeks might be a good standard to have, ESID. It takes one guy sitting around not-hankoing things to gum up the process.

Post-Career Forum Surprises

Finally, a couple of months after the Boston Career Forum, I received an email from a Company interested in knowing whether they would still like me to talk to their legal and compliance departments, respectively, about the possibility of joining them in Tokyo. So, even for those companies you apply to and never hear from, possibilities exist that they may contact you long after the fact.

A Final Note

DISCO also posts general job postings for bilinguals throughout the year. I have had some luck with these as well, though they are generally not aimed at J.D.s.

In short, if you’re looking to navigate the Apocalyptic War-Zone that is legal employment in a post-financial crisis world – DISCO offers you a welcome platform from which to market your legal and language abilities – in a much less crowded field of competitors.

Quick Interview Resource

Most interview advice is pretty predictable: (1) Don’t show up naked; (2) Don’t mention that you think your last employer smelled like poo; (3) Don’t punch your interviewer in the face.

Then, sometimes, interview advice can actually be pretty useful. While this isn’t advice for legal interviews specifically, this short presentation by Goldman Sachs covers some of the basics, but also breaks things down into interview styles, and interview preparation – something many good resources don’t do.

The link, again, is here. Enjoy!

Recent Developments: The Difficult Job Market

Bad news is never fun, but there’s always plenty of it out there, even when the market is up and last month saw significant positive job growth of around 150,000. Law jobs are still projected to lag behind, however, and a recent National Jurist article gives a pretty succinct explanation as to why. A brief snippet of that article can be found here, but one of the more salient portions explains:

Here are three relevant observations:

1. The traditional law firm hiring model (pedigree and grades) doesn’t do a very good job of selecting candidates who are likely to succeed as large firm litigators or corporate lawyers.

2 The traditional credential-based model is gradually being dismantled because clients are no longer willing to absorb the cost of bad hiring decisions.

3. The skills and behaviors you need to set yourself apart are not taught in law school—indeed, your typical law professor is completely unqualified to serve as your jungle guide.

The full article contains a fairly lengthy explanation of where the legal market finds itself today, especially in light of young or aspiring lawyers, and is well worth a read for that reason alone. This raises all kinds of questions for the individual considering a legal education, and should raise a lot of concerns as to the risks as well. Change comes slow to law schools, and to firms as well. But, the legal profession as a whole is undergoing serious, hyper-evolutionary changes, and their overall ramifications are still unclear.

For current third-years, who have watched the last two years’ worth of graduates leaving law school jobless and in debt, the likelihood that many of them will suffer the same fate seems a possibility, as noted in U.S. News & World in June:

Though official statistics will not be released until next May, the class of 2010 is likely to have lower raw employment numbers than the class before it, says Jim Leipold, executive director of the National Association for Law Placement. The employment for the class of 2011 will likely also be “very compromised,” he says.

“The Class of 2012 will be the first class for which we might see some kind of uptick in employment,” Leipold says. “I’m not making a prediction that it will recover in 2012; I’m saying it probably won’t recover much before then.”

The outlook has not much changed with the uptick in the economy as of recent, and it seems instead that the principle suppliers (the law schools) of the glut of lawyers are going to be under pressure to close as the unemployment woes of recent law school grads reach critical mass.

Slate also had a recent article chronicling the typical cautions and risks inherent in going to law school in the current economic climate that concluded with a similar premise that the market will have to level out.

These are the most recent developments I have seen on the employment front, and with the legal market under change, with lots of entry-level attorney jobs being shipped to India, with the large oversupply of attorneys already out there, law school seems to be daily becoming an ever riskier investment, even on the advent of economic recovery.

[UPDATED: Things are looking better for 2016]

It’s hard to admit it’s getting better: Legal Market Update October 2010

I’ve been holding back on doing this. Dreading it, in fact. The last time I posted about the legal employment market, the stastics out there showed little growth in May, and a dive back into the negatives in June. At the same time, the nation was dealing with a massive oil spill, Greek debt crises abroad, and latent unemployment everywhere driving what was supposed to be a “Summer of Recovery.”

Well, summer is at an end. The markets have been up for a month. Students who were fortunate enough to win the Summer Associate BigLaw lottery are looking at higher retention rates (and job security) and helping clear the field a bit for the 3Ls still looking for work. Legal employment numbers were also up for August and September.

But there’s still a lingering uncertainty in the stormy legal market. More and more entry-level legal jobs (and document review jobs that unemployed attorneys could rely upon) are being shipped to India. And then there’s that backlog of graduates from the last two years who have been unable to find work — those who haven’t given up on their dreams of legal employment may be coming back into the market to fight for jobs, even if their contract attorney work experience doesn’t carry much weight.

Sources near me tell me that even for low-paying legal secretary jobs at their firm, they are seeing hundreds of unemployed J.D.-toting applicants. It’s both an absurd and sad testament to the times.

So – are things on the mend? Probably so.

Are the nervous 3Ls who have watched the two law classes before them sentenced to unemployment purgatory beeming with excitement? Not yet, at least. And it’s fair to say not for awhile.

[UPDATED: Things are looking better for 2016]