February 19, 2013

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Article

Fledgling Legal Eagles

New Lawyers Struggling to Find Employment

John Coon

February 19, 2013

“It creates a sense of community where they become familiar
with the broader legal community,” Nelson says. “That way they can increase referrals (from other lawyers). It also gives them experience. It gets them in the courtroom. It just gives them a broader opening into the practice than was previously available.”

Opening New Doors

A dearth of jobs has meant law school graduates who can’t start their own practice often find themselves starting at the most basic entry-level positions. They are applying to be legal secretaries, paralegals and judicial clerks in higher numbers. This has naturally also created a hiring crunch for those positions.

Other law school graduates are taking non-traditional career paths. Former law students nationwide are finding employment in diverse areas ranging from human resources to mortgage lending.

Curtis Jensen, the Utah State Bar commissioner, says the law schools at BYU and the University of Utah have done a good job of making their students aware of what they can do with a law degree. This means lower unemployment rates because students know a greater number of options are out there where they can put their education to good use.

“The local law schools are doing a great job of that with some of the programs they’ve implemented,” Jensen says. “They are trying to provide some students with an alternative beyond the traditional means of practicing law. They’re diversifying them so that they don’t have to just go out and be a trial lawyer or a full-time lawyer.”

Jensen notes that many law school graduates are finding great success applying their degree to careers in the public sector, government, law enforcement and business. They are discovering avenues they had not imagined before graduation and are avoiding the frustrations felt by fellow graduates in searching for a job.

“That diversification that comes to law students while in law school shows them other doors are open and other opportunities can present themselves,” Jensen says.

Leithead encourages people who want to attend law school to spend enough time doing homework on the legal profession. It can give them a better idea of what they want to do with their law degree and help them map out a career path that helps them navigate the roadblocks some law school graduates have struggled to avoid.

“There are a lot of avenues for a law degree that don’t necessarily involve the traditional practice of law,” Leithead says. “You can use it in a lot of different ways. If people are interested in the law, I don’t think they should be discouraged from going to law school.

The Glass is Half Full

One message law firms and law schools in Utah want to convey to prospective law students is a simple one: Don’t give up. Statistics seem to discourage the idea of getting a law degree and pursuing a legal career. But that doesn’t mean a student who dreams of going to court and arguing before a judge and jury needs to find a different career plan.

Seasoned lawyers like Jensen remain convinced the current trends are simply a cycle. The profession remains vibrant because the need for competent lawyers to facilitate solutions for a multitude of legal problems isn’t going away any time soon.

“There’s always a bright future,” Jensen says. “If a young lawyer is determined, applies themselves in law school, works hard, is honest, has integrity, and goes out there and is able to make their mark, they are going to have an enjoyable, successful and rewarding career.”

A Step Forward: Mentoring Program Educates New Lawyers

Mentorship from tenured lawyers helps young lawyers gain confidence and experience in practicing law. To provide this valuable guidance, the Utah State Bar launched the New Lawyers Training Program as a way to develop recent law school graduates into effective lawyers.

Now entering its third year of existence, the New Lawyers Training Program has the primary purpose of pairing new lawyers with experienced lawyers who can provide one-on-one mentoring in multiple aspects of practicing law. Mentors help instill the skills, ethics and sound judgment new lawyers need to effectively serve their clients.

Lawyers can qualify as a mentor if they have practiced law for at least seven years and have not faced past or pending formal disciplinary actions. All new lawyers admitted to the state bar in Utah are required to complete the mentoring program within the first year of practicing law in the state.

So far the program has been a hit for both experienced attorneys and legal eagles who have just barely left the nest.

“The reports back from the new lawyers are extremely positive,” says current Utah State Bar President Lori Nelson. “The reports back from mentors are extremely positive. Everyone finds satisfaction in the program and feels that it is and will be successful.”

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