For the Class of 2018, Patrick W. Thomas points to his own career and advises the new law school graduates to network, find mentors and give opportunities a chance because they never really know where something will lead.
Thomas earned his J.D. degree five years ago. He was among the 46,776 law students who graduated in 2013, the largest number ever. The celebration may have been short-lived because the new lawyers walked into a bleak job market that was not showing any signs of improvement from the nosedive that started during the Great Recession.
Nine months after graduation, just 57 percent of the Class of 2013 had full-time, long-term J.D.-required jobs, and 11.2 percent were unemployed and looking for work. The data was collected by the American Bar Association and included jobs that were funded by law schools.
Analyzing the jobs reports, James Leipold, executive director of the National Association for Law Placement, said the Class of 2011 entered the worst legal job market with less than half of the employed graduates finding jobs in private practice. However, he continued, the Class of 2013 will likely be the one with the lowest overall employment rate since the recession, in part because of its size.
Leipold noted the upheaval in the legal market was causing law school graduates to take a wider variety and greater diversity of jobs than ever before. “In general,” he wrote of the job prospects for the Class of 2013, “the picture that emerges is one of slow growth, and growth that is a blend of continued shrinkage and downsizing in some areas offset by growth in other areas.”
Thomas, founding director of the Notre Dame Law School Tax Clinic, said his path into legal academia was neither one he intentionally carved out nor one that could be replicated.
“But maybe it did take that weird concurrence of events to get me here where I am today,” he said. “I love being a lawyer.”
Thomas graduated from Indiana University Maurer School of Law without a job or potential offer of employment. He was not thinking of becoming a lawyer when he arrived in Bloomington as an undergraduate, but decided pursuing a law degree would fit with his liberal arts degree in Germanic Studies.
The economy was bad when he enrolled in law school, Thomas noted, so everyone was having a hard time finding a job, not just lawyers. When he graduated, he followed the advice that was given to him to do something and keep doing something.
At IU Maurer, Thomas volunteered at the law school’s tax assistance program and “just loved it.” So after graduation, he applied and received the American Bar Association Section of Taxation Public Service Fellowship. For two years he worked as a tax attorney at the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, which also gave him the opportunity to edit and write and put him in contact with a variety of tax lawyers and legal scholars.
Just as his fellowship was winding down, Notre Dame was starting its tax clinic and Thomas was able to capture that opportunity. Working in academia was not his career goal, but he describes his job as “awesome.” He enjoys working with law students and running a clinic that helps low-income clients.
Anne Fishbeck, associate at SmithAmundsen in Chicago and member of the Class of 2013, likewise advises the 2018 graduates to be flexible.
Although Fishbeck was hired as an associate shortly after graduation, the job was in a law firm in northwest Indiana, and she had been looking to work either in a public defender’s or prosecutor’s office. The summer positions she held during law school were all in the public sector, including work at the Indiana Professional Licensing Agency, the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office and the Federal Trade Commission in Chicago. The job that came after she finished her J.D. was her first in private practice.
Fishbeck chose law school over pursuing a doctorate in French. Echoing Thomas, she noted everyone was having trouble navigating the economy a few years back, and the job prospects for Ph.D. holders were not any better than for J.D. recipients.
She took a year off after completing her bachelor’s degree to join AmeriCorps and teach at an elementary school in Texas. Then she and her now-husband headed to IU Maurer.
During law school, Fishbeck was aware of the tightening job market for lawyers, but she was not overly concerned. Friends who had graduated in 2012 had jobs when they left law school. “I figured it would all work out,” she said.
Her job search was a bit complicated because she and her now-husband wanted to practice in the same city. When he got hired as a patent attorney in Chicago, she found the job in northwest Indiana and then eventually made her way to SmithAmundsen.
“I don’t have any regrets,” Fishbeck said. “I am happy.”
As Andrew W. Foster got close to graduation at IU Maurer, his parents began funneling him tips and suggestions of people he should speak with or where he might go to find a job. They did not question his decision to go to law school or doubt his ability to find work – rather, that’s just what parents do.
Foster knew about the dismal employment rate for attorneys and, having taken a class with professor Bill Henderson, was aware the legal profession, itself, was profoundly changing. Even so, he was not worried because he was willing to take on any kind of legal work, and he saw the potential job opportunities in rural firms.
About the time of his admission ceremony, Foster got a job with Wagoner Ayer Hargis and Rudisill in Rockport. He is comfortable in that part of southern Indiana, having grown up in Newburg and earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern Indiana. Also, he is reminded of his family’s deep roots in the area when people introduce themselves by telling Foster that his father, who was a priest at the parish in Chrisney, baptized them.
Foster and his law partners run a general practice, handling just about any legal matter that comes in the front door. In addition, he does public defender work in both Spencer and Perry counties.
The practice in Rockport fits Foster well and shapes his advice to the 2018 graduates. “Know yourself,” he said. “Know what you want and what you’ll be good at and follow that.”
Five years since graduation, Foster has settled into family life along the Ohio River with his parents nearby. He thoroughly enjoys being a small-town lawyer, but acknowledges law school did not prepare him for the bustle of life that can come with an active practice and three small children at home. “If I get out of the house for a haircut, that’s a big achievement right there,” he said.•