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Employability begins long before graduation day

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Even before she applied to law school, Janice Pascuzzi knew the type of law she wanted to practice and the firm where she wanted to work.

She specifically chose Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law because of its concentration in health care law and its connection with the law firm Hall Render Killian Heath & Lyman P.C. And when she graduated in May, the job she landed practicing health law at Hall Render was not a dream come true – it was exactly what she had worked for.

Pascuzzi is an example of the dedication needed to find employment in what remains a very competitive legal job market. As the members of the class of 2014 graduate, preparation and networking are extremely essential to landing a job as a lawyer.

jobs-15col.jpg Lea Lockhart, left, and Janice Pascuzzi work at Hall Render Killian Heath & Lyman P.C. (IL Photo/ Marilyn Odendahl)

Still, the fresh crop of lawyers is stepping into a recovering economy. Although the legal job market is very tight, a little daylight is appearing, according to the National Association for Law Placement’s survey “Perspectives on Fall 2013 Law Student Recruiting.”

The report found firms have been increasing entry-level hiring since the Great Recession hit in 2008, albeit very slightly. Also, the offer rate for associate positions made to Class of 2014 members who worked as summer associates in 2013 hit 92 percent, which is markedly improved from the 69 percent measured in 2009 and just under the historic 93 percent recorded pre-recession in 2006 and 2007.

At Notre Dame Law School, Assistant Dean for Academic and Student Affairs Kevin O’Rear is hopeful the steady growth in hiring he has noticed for the past three years will continue for all 2014 graduates. It has not been a dramatic upswing but, O’Rear said, the number of graduates getting long-term jobs that require bar passage has been improving.

The American Bar Association’s employment data documents the upward trend that O’Rear has seen, but the numbers underscore how painfully slow the climb has been. Nine months after graduation, 55 percent of the 2011 law school graduates nationally were employed in long-term, full-time jobs that required bar passage. That rate rose to 56.2 percent for the class of 2012 and inched up to 57 percent for the class of 2013.

Moreover, 11 percent of 2013 graduates were unemployed and seeking work nine months after they graduated.

Pascuzzi said a lot of her classmates were still looking for jobs and while she is confident they will find work, she acknowledged it would be “really, really stressful” to wake up the next morning and not know what you are going to do.

“I think if people go to law school for the right reasons and go into what they truly love, it will work out,” she said.

A process

The 2014 graduates of Valparaiso University Law School are likewise displaying a range of emotions. Victoria Ryan, senior director of career planning at the law school, said some people are very discouraged and others are very positive and upbeat.

She tells graduates that finding a job as a lawyer is a process that they should move through one step at a time.

“If they start dwelling on how much debt they have or how much competition there is in the job market, it can drag them down,” Ryan said. “(I tell them to) focus on the process because it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

That marathon actually begins the first semester of law school. Both Ryan and O’Rear noted the conversation with students begins early in their studies about what they want to do when they leave. Students think about what area of law interests them and what they plan to do during the summer after their first year. Then the planning progresses from there.

Students, O’Rear said, also have to consider where geographically they want to work. In this market, he continued, employers interpret the “Gee, I’ll work anywhere” attitude as demonstrating a lack of focus and forethought.
 

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Aminta Moses’ career plans changed significantly during her legal studies. The Ohio native and 2014 graduate of Indiana University Maurer School of Law enrolled in law school fully intending to become a practicing lawyer; however, in the middle of her second year she decided a career in academia better fit her interests.

After she takes the bar exam in July, she plans return to IU Bloomington to begin her graduate studies in sociology. Moses said her switch had nothing to do with the job market and, in fact, she had offers for law jobs when she graduated.

The number of Indiana law school graduates who pursue a master’s or doctorate degree full time after they complete a J.D. has been very small. Since 2011, ABA data shows only a handful have continued their education with the most coming from the Valparaiso class of 2013 when 10 graduates enrolled in graduate school.

Soft skills required

Although she will not be using her law degree in the traditional manner, Moses credits her legal education with directing her to academia and sees her J.D. as being very beneficial to her career.

Her comments echoed many law school deans who say the skills students learn in law school, such as analytical thinking, are useful in many different jobs outside the legal field.

Certainly to get a job as a lawyer, applicants need those legal skills, but employers today are also looking for new hires who have the so-called “soft skills.”

A high grade point average and great credentials on paper can not overcome a brash personality, inability to work with others or immaturity, O’Rear said. Fewer and fewer employers are willing to take someone solely because of a good academic record. They want someone whom they would be comfortable taking to meet a client.

He suspects the driver behind this trend may be supply outstripping demand. Firms can be more selective since the pool of qualified graduates looking for work is bigger.

Pascuzzi and her colleague at Hall Render, attorney Lea Lockhart, both emphasized the importance of being personable and fitting in with the other attorneys at the firm.

The lawyers in the office can teach the new associate about the law, Pascuzzi said, but they cannot teach the new hire how to be nice, good to work with or how to make a good impression on clients.

South Bend solo practitioner Tony Rose concurred likeability is important. Citing research that found clients tend to stick with attorneys they like, Rose said he develops a friendly business relationship with his clients by always taking time to ask them about their hobbies and family.

Rose, who is also chair of the Indiana State Bar Association Young Lawyers Section, reiterated the oft-repeated advice that new attorneys, especially those looking for a job, must develop relationships with other attorneys. With many firms opting to not widely publicize openings, recent graduates can get an advantage in the hiring process, he said, by attending chamber of commerce and bar association functions and meeting other professionals who might know of available jobs.

O’Rear has more than a professional interest in the legal job market. He has a son in law school which gives the administrator a personal interest in the employment outlook.

During a “very frank discussion” before the young man enrolled in law school, the father advised law school is no longer a place to hide out while trying to determine what career path to follow.

“You need to go to law school only if you want to be a lawyer,” O’Rear told his son. “If you really want to be a lawyer, there’s never a bad time to go to law school.”•

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  1. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  2. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  3. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

  4. When I hear 'Juvenile Lawyer' I think of an attorney helping a high school aged kid through the court system for a poor decision; like smashing mailboxes. Thank you for opening up my eyes to the bigger picture of the need for juvenile attorneys. It made me sad, but also fascinated, when it was explained, in the sixth paragraph, that parents making poor decisions (such as drug abuse) can cause situations where children need legal representation and aid from a lawyer.

  5. Some in the Hoosier legal elite consider this prayer recommended by the AG seditious, not to mention the Saint who pledged loyalty to God over King and went to the axe for so doing: "Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul. Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen."

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