Law students fear fewer job prospects, seek advising

Fewer job offers and mounting debt from student loans have led to an uneasy employment atmosphere and an increased focus on career development on the GW Law School campus

Though applications to the law school remain steady, current students and administrators said the lawyers-to-be are concerned about their job prospects.

“With the job market tightening up, applicants seem to be particularly focused on minimizing their debt,” Law School Associate Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Anne Richard said.

Ashley Keiser, a third-year law student who will graduate in May and begin working for the federal government in the fall, said she knew “many third-year students who are graduating this year without jobs.”

“Given how much debt many people take on, potentially over $150,000, this is a scary proposition because loan repayment usually starts six months after graduation,” she said.

Law school Dean Fredrick Lawrence said the school is addressing employment concerns by increasing grant money, scholarships and loan repayment that will help offset education costs.

“It is natural during challenging times to place greater focus on education as an investment in oneself and one’s future. During the past two years, there has been a national increase in law school applications, and our school is no exception,” he said.

Several speakers at the Association of American Law Schools’ annual convention in New Orleans earlier this month emphasized the shrinking legal job market, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported earlier this month.

Lawrence said that “although not every graduate gets the initial job he or she most sought,” 95 percent of 2008 graduates had a job at graduation and 99 percent had jobs nine months after graduation. Despite the strong statistics, students approaching graduation are skeptical of openings in the job market.

“Three or four years ago, anyone with near top-of-the-class grades was all but assured a good shot at procuring a big firm job with a big salary to help pay off the tremendous student loans that most take out. In today’s unfortunate reality, even top-of-the-class grades, which are really difficult to obtain when competing directly with the caliber of students at GW law, assures a GW law student nothing at all,” second-year law student Mitchell Eisenberger said.

Some students who have already accepted job offers for after graduation are skeptical of the certainty of offers.

“The current economic situation has made it much more stressful to be a third-year law student, as there is the constant concern that the job you have accepted may go away before you ever get to start,” said Katie Heckert, who plans to work for a medium-sized law firm in Florida after she graduates this spring.

The school’s Career Development Office provides all law students with individualized, one-on-one career counseling, which includes development and implementation of a personalized job search strategy, resume and cover letter editing, and reviewing networking skills and mock interviews, said the office’s assistant director, Cindy Tewksbury. In an effort to further assist students facing a shrinking job market, the Career Development and Judicial Clerkship Offices increased their staff 25 percent since the recession began, Lawrence said.

“Getting jobs has become much more difficult and it has become more difficult to maintain a positive attitude about the work. Most of us are thousands upon thousands in debt. There is nowhere to go but forward,” second-year law student Dan Janow said.

Despite the CDO’s recent undertakings to increase job placement at local firms, students’ opinions of the CDO remain mixed.

“Personally, I have actually had good experiences with the career services at the law school. I have not utilized many of their services but I had a good relationship with my career counselor who gave me honest and useful advice when I was searching for a job last year,” Keiser said.

Another student, who wishes to remain anonymous to protect his standing with professionals at the law school, had a different experience.

“Sadly, although I love the school and have enjoyed my experience tremendously, the CDO has been abysmal. In this tough time for students who have tons of debt and limited opportunities, the many CDO counselors I have met with are downright obnoxious and have little patience,” he said.

Tewksbury said students who don’t connect with their assigned career counselor may meet with one of the other 10 counselors on staff. She encouraged students who may not have had a positive experience with the office to discuss their concerns with CDO Director Carole Montgomery.

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