Experienced Lawyers in Demand While Junior Associates Compete for Legal Jobs

It's a tale of two markets for many legal job seekers. Newly minted legal professionals in the United States are still facing conservative employment prospects while law firms and companies are increasingly competing for tenured attorneys with expertise in high-demand practice areas. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the number of jobs for lawyers will grow 10 percent from 2012 to 2022, a projection that is on par with other occupations. Yet the supply of lawyers continues to outpace market demand with law schools producing more than 44,000 graduates each year since 2010.

ABA Calls for Reforms to Legal Education System

Meanwhile, as law school tuition continues to rise, more college graduates are deciding to say “no” to law school, rather than incur additional student loan debt and face limited job prospects later. In fact, the number of law school applications in 2013 dropped by 11 percent to levels not seen since the 1970s. Prompted by these trends, the American Bar Association is calling for reforms to the legal education system, including:

  • Being more selective about admissions

  • Cutting coursework

  • Requiring more hands-on training

  • Freezing tuition costs

  • Reducing the typical law school duration from three years to two.

Future_Law_Office_Robert_Half_Legal_blog“These types of changes are necessary,” says Michael Roster, steering committee co-chair of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) Value Challenge and adjunct faculty at the University of Southern California (USC) Gould School of Law. “We’re going to continue to teach the basics of law to students, of course. Learning to think critically is an essential part of legal education. But it’s no longer acceptable to teach a person to just think like a lawyer -- they need to think like a practicing lawyer,” Roster says.

Getting a Head Start on the Legal Job Hunt

According to research we conducted for our annual Future Law Office program -- The Evolving Legal Profession and Emerging Workforce of Tomorrow -- recent curricula changes instituted at some law schools may give graduates of these institutions an advantage in the legal job market and a head start to becoming future man­agers in the profession.

Roster concurs: “I teach mostly third-year students in my legal contracts class -- and most of them have never seen a contract. So, I make them work almost exclusively with contracts -- analyzing them, writing them, and so on. This helps them to accelerate their career track in the legal organization once they’re hired because they come equipped with competency that traditionally would’ve been learned on the job.” 

“We need law students to come out of law school much more prepared to practice law than we did seven or eight years ago,” says Cesar L. Alvarez, co-chairman of Greenberg Traurig, LLP. “Having practical experience and taking business courses is very helpful. It can give job candidates an edge over those who have only a traditional law school education.”

Candidates with “business acumen” are also likely to have an advantage according our research. However, business education has not been a focus for most law schools in the past. As Jeff Levinson, vice president, general counsel and secretary of NetScout Systems, Inc. observes, “Law schools generally have not been early adopters of business and management techniques -- or even technology -- but they’re starting to change and respond to this new world.”

The end result of all this change, according to Roster, is that law schools will start producing graduates who are “much further along” in terms of skills and abilities than has been the case for decades. He says, “Law firms are then going to learn how to accelerate those students so they’re practicing by the second or third year, and at the level of a fifth- or sixth-year lawyer. That’s how the stability of law firms will come back. Third- and fourth-year lawyers will be doing really interesting, good work -- and loving it.”


To learn more about trends affecting the legal profession, including law practice management and legal hiring, read our other Future Law Office blog posts or download a complimentary copy of the report.