May 25, 2010
Economic Downturn Is Giving Law School Students the Summertime Blues
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By his first summer, it was clear the job market at his level had dried up. “There were maybe one or two job postings from large firms looking for first-year associates,” Wasser said. Fortunately, he found a summer job in Washington, D.C., working for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in its law students honors program, which pays a modest government salary.
In his second year, Wasser was more confident of securing the pivotal Big Law summer associate position. “I was hoping that I could parlay my experience at the SEC and as an accountant into them overlooking my lower-than-median GPA.” But no firm would offer him a job. So this summer, Wasser will be back at the SEC, this time in the Office of the Commissioner. “Even though I don’t have the sought-after [second-year] summer associate job, I still think that as business picks up, these firms are going to realize they need more associates.”
In the meantime, law school at USC costs $46,774 per year in tuition alone, not including room and board, books, transportation and other costs of living. “It’s definitely worrisome,” Wasser said of the debt. “But I think there are a lot worse [types] of debt you can accumulate.” Wasser said he is looking into government debt forgiveness programs for graduates who enter public service.
Eyes Wide Open for Class of 2012
If the classes of 2010 and 2011 faced the rude awakening of the recession while already in school, the class of 2012 made its choice with eyes wide open. “If you’re a first-year student, you kind of came into law school knowing what you were getting yourself into. They’re definitely rolling up their sleeves and [saying], ‘I know I have a challenge ahead of me,’” USC dean DeGrushe said.
Danielle Warner just this month completed her first year at USC. Like Wasser, Warner had earned a master’s degree before law school, hers in government and diplomacy. She had worked at the American Embassy in Israel, but found that diplomacy was not the path for her. “Even in my master’s program, I was drawn to the international law courses. When I came back to the States, I applied to law school.”
Despite the slowdown in the legal field, the lack of jobs in other industries made choosing law school easier. “I had to find a job with my master’s degree for the year [before law school], and it was really hard. I don’t think the employment market is any better for any other profession,” Warner said.
Like Wasser and Zarotsky, Warner hopes to land a Big Law job to relieve debt worries and, of course, to become as successful as she can. “Everyone in my class was at the top of their undergraduate class and did amazing extracurricular activities and are very hard-working, self-driven people. So I think it’s common for them to expect that, eventually, that will lead to a lucrative career.”
But reality doesn’t always live up to expectations.
Warner has already accomplished the first crucial step, getting top first-semester grades at a top school, but hit a roadblock when she attempted to find a firm job for her first summer. “I interviewed at a bunch of big firms, but at the end of the day, they are interviewing seven or eight people and only taking one,” Warner said. She was not chosen.
Coming out of those interviews, Warner told The Jewish Journal, “I feel frustrated and disheartened. It’s been an emotional roller coaster. I’d been told, ‘That’s the ticket. Once you get those awesome grades, everything will fall into place.’ So to have all the qualifications and for [firms] to just say ‘sorry’ was a really big letdown.”
Worse, when the second-year students fail to secure summer associate positions, they will drop down to compete with the first-years. “Even the typical first-year jobs that aren’t with big firms are being taken by second-years. I think a lot of people are really frustrated about that,” Warner said.