Big law firms in America’s major cities are shedding jobs and many are cutting back on recruitment of new law school graduates, but things apparently aren’t that bad in Grand Rapids.
The National Association for Law Placement reported this summer that the employment rate of 2008 law school graduates was down for the first time since 2003. In late August, The New York Times reported that there were only half as many openings for new graduates at big name law firms as there were last year.
“We’ve all been reading those articles,” said Danielle Hall, but she added, “We haven’t noticed a similar trend here — yet.”
Hall is career and professional development coordinator at the Grand Rapids campus of Thomas M. Cooley Law School, the only one in West Michigan.
“I don’t think that we’re down in terms of employer recruiting at our school at this point. And our employment numbers are strong,” said Hall.
However, there has been a slight drop over the last two years in the percentage of Cooley grads with jobs in law. A survey of 2007 grads showed 82 percent had jobs in law, while a subsequent survey of 2008 grads was 79 percent. Cooley and other ABA-accredited law schools must report results of their annual graduate employment surveys to the American Bar Association and the NALP.
Hall said the firms that have been experiencing the publicized layoffs and canceling on-campus recruiting are in major metropolitan areas such as New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
“Those are firms with 500-plus attorneys,” she said. “We don’t have firms like that here in Grand Rapids — we are a more regional, small to mid-size market. And those are the firms that can weather this storm a little bit more. They don’t have the significant overhead and lots of associates to keep employed.
“And those are the types of firms that typically recruit our students, as well,” she said.
Hall said when Cooley’s survey is done in 2010 of its 2009 graduates, there will be a clearer indication of the employment trend for new lawyers in West Michigan.
However, Cooley is “definitely preparing” its students “for a tougher legal and economic market,” Hall said. She said Cooley students are being advised that they may have to “broaden their perspective or broaden their search a little more,” because that dream job may not end up being their first job in law.
According to the NALP’s July report, 89.9 percent of 2008 law school graduates were employed, for those whom employment status was known. The rate of part-time employment for the new lawyers was 6.5 percent, compared to 5 percent in recent years.
However, the NALP also noted that many members of the class of 2008 had obtained their jobs before the economic downturn intensified in late 2008, and some had probably received job offers in 2007, prior to graduation.
The NALP report also states that 23 percent of salaries for the class of 2008 were $160,000 or more, but 34 percent were $55,000 or less.
Hall said Cooley graduates in 2008 had an average starting salary of $52,000. About 53 percent of Cooley grads in 2008 went into private practice, as opposed to government, corporate or institutional legal jobs. The majority of those in private practice are at firms with from two to 10 attorneys.