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Everyone taking hits from the economy

Virtually no part of private industry has gone unaffected by the economic recession. Payrolls are shrinking as businesses cut costs in response to dwindling profits.

That isn’t good news for college graduates looking to enter the workforce. Even those with advanced degrees are encountering a tight job market.

Students set to graduate from one of Mississippi’s two schools of law are seeing their employment options narrowing.

“The economic crisis is impacting the legal profession nationwide,” said Kristin Flierl, director of career services at Ole Miss’ school of law. “Large law firms are laying off in record numbers, firms are rescinding offers made to the class of 2009 or postponing start dates until 2010.”

Even medium and small firms are scaling back their hiring, Flierl said. With firms of every size not hiring as much as they once did, law school career counselors are beginning to question the hiring model used for the past 20 years – specifically, the one where firms hire new associates from the previous year’s summer law clerk program.

“The big question among legal professionals from law schools and law firms is how hiring will change; we do not yet have the answer,” Flierl said.

Some of the firms who have hired law students as summer clerks and gone on to hire them full-time once they graduate have told Flierl they intend on eliminating that method of stocking their staff. Instead, they will hire “lateral attorneys,” or associates from other firms.

Counseling law students who are close to graduating does not have a shift in philosophy just because the economy is mired in a recession. The ultimate goal stays the same – getting students employed. The things students need to do remain unchanged, too.

“To get the job, you need to know yourself — your skills, values and interests — as well as what your career and life goals are and what you can do for the employer,” Flierl said.

That said, Flierl is advising her students to go back to the fundamentals of job hunting. Networking, latching on to a mentor and even considering jobs that don’t necessarily require a law degree are all options, she said.

“A juris doctor degree may open doors, but it will not generate an offer in and of itself,” Flierl said. “We are also advising students to consider – or reconsider — government employment. Most government agencies are actively hiring, and some have added positions thanks to stimulus funds.”

Jim Rosenblatt, dean of the Mississippi College (MC) School of Law, has seen an uptick in the number of his students taking jobs with government agencies once they get their diploma.

“We have seen an increase in the number of our graduates entering the armed forces as judge advocates, for example,” he said.

The decline in the mass tort practice has forced graduates to be open to options they most likely would not have had to consider in a churning economy. Small-town practices have weathered economic conditions a little better than the large firms, with a “sizable segment” of new MC-educated attorneys going that route, Rosenblatt said.

Flierl said firms that specialize bankruptcy, foreclosures, corporate securities and patent proceedings, tax law and criminal law are still hiring. Firms practicing corporate and transactions law are hiring less than they once were, she said.

Like Flierl at Ole Miss, Rosenblatt believes the recently passed American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — specifically the portions that will fund public works projects and housing relief programs — will create jobs for attorneys.

“Our graduates are finding jobs but are working harder to find them,” Rosenblatt said.

Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@msbusiness.com .


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