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Law grads might want to check out other career options

There will soon be approximately 341 law graduates from the state’s two law schools, and the job outlook is a mixed bag. The University of Mississippi School of Law and the Mississippi College (MC) School of Law report a changing job market.

“It’s as flat as I’ve seen it since the early 1990s,” says Joyce Whittington, director of career services at Ole Miss. “It’s very quiet. We’re not getting a lot of calls this year. We had 12 graduates last year who didn’t get law jobs.”

She cites several reasons that include the lack of affordable housing for students wanting to practice on the Gulf Coast, tort reform resulting in less litigation, the state’s size and the number of students who fall in love with Oxford and want to remain there.

“Because of tort reform, some firms are letting young lawyers go and some of those, who’ve been in practice a year or two, are getting the jobs my graduates would usually get,” she said. “Being a rural state is part of the problem. In a state the size of ours, with the current economy, this state can not support this many law graduates each year. A young lawyer couple wanting to move to a small town presents a problem.”

Dean Jim Rosenblatt of Mississippi College believes the school’s location in downtown Jackson is a great advantage for his students. “Many of our students pursue externships or part-time employment during law school, which gives them recognizable experience and valuable contacts in the legal community,” he said.

Debbie Foley, director of placement, says there are jobs available to MC graduates. “Last year, we had a 97% placement rate as measured by the National Association of Law Placement,” she said. “However, there has been a reduction in the number of available jobs in certain areas of practice, particularly involving mass tort litigation. The job market is quite different from what it was eight years ago.”

She adds that MC has seen a significant increase in the number of graduates who are taking oil and gas-related jobs and in the military services. The largest percentage still goes to private sector law firms.

Whittington sees a lot of interest in immigration law, tax law and environmental law. Graduates going to work with large firms can choose a section, but most find work with small firms — two to 10 attorneys — doing what she refers to as “door law,” taking whatever type of case that walks through the door.

“Some 60% to 65% of our graduates stay in Mississippi,” she said. “That number was much higher before they had to take the bar exam. Now, some of the graduates are getting more adventurous and going to other states.”

This Ole Miss veteran of 35 years wants to make it as easy as possible for firms to hire the school’s graduates. “All I need is for them to let me know what their hiring needs are,” she said. “They don’t have to come on campus. We’ve struggled to get 20 firms to come to a job fair.”

MC’s director of professional development Meta Copeland says the school has recruiters who come to interview students in the fall and in the spring. “We have seen an increase in the interest in our students from out-of-state law firms and organizations,” she added.

Most of MC’s graduates settle in Mississippi and the nearby states of Louisiana, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida and Arkansas. “We will always have a few students who go to California and New England, but primarily our graduates work in the Mid South,” Foley said.

Rosenblatt points out that law is becoming more specialized. “Our graduates who join law firms will usually be assigned to a practice area to develop expertise and experience in that area,” he said. “We have a good number of graduates who go on to obtain advanced law degrees — particularly in tax — and who will specialize in that area.”

Whittington worries about the graduates that she calls baby lawyers, and sees some of them getting creative and doing other things that include financial planning and investments. She has one 2007 graduate who’s doing construction work. The American Bar Association mandates that every school send a yearly report on job placement.

“Normally, about 65% of every class goes to work with a law firm, regardless of size. With the graduates of 2007, only 50% are working in law firms,” she said. “I tell students to get the best job they can get, in a location they like with nice people. I want them to be passionate about it. Now, the reality is just get a job.”

She’s in touch with the law market in Memphis and doesn’t see it much better than Mississippi’s.

At MC, counselors begin working with students in their first year with resume preparation, workshops and placement advice. “We continue this support throughout their years in law school,” Rosenblatt said. “We also provide placement services to our graduates.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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