Law School Grads in the Year 2012

People are buzzing about 2012 these days, given the Mayan prediction that the world would end at that time. There’s no doubt that “world ending” qualifies as something to keep an eye on, but one has to doubt the accuracy of Mayan predictions, given how things went with the conquistadors.

Either way, of greater concern here at Veritas Prep is what is going to happen to law school graduates in 2012. Last year’s clients (as well as thousands of other students) are in their first terms right now, soaking up Civil Procedure and walking across the hot coals that are the Socratic Method. They are also watching in terror as their 3L and 2L colleagues struggle to find jobs.

We all know that the job market is bleak for recent grads and students about to graduate … but what about the students just starting out? Will things rebound by 2012? What is the landscape going to look like?

For the most part, people seem to be fairly optimistic about job prospects further down the road. The general belief that the economy will recover has a positive impact on the legal industry, as the services that bolster financial instruments stand to benefit as those markets bounce back. Furthermore, there have been new areas of the law to emerge (such as energy and financial regulation) that will give rise to more available career paths.

Additionally, job prospects in “alternative” areas, such as public interest, government, and academia, seem to be holding pretty steady. For students who plan accordingly and take advantage of loan forgiveness programs, a career in public interest is a way to take advantage of a law degree without running into the risks of a down financial market.

That said, beyond the projections of offers and available positions, one also has to wonder about the culture of the future legal environment. We’ve previously opined on this blog that law firms would take full advantage of the downturn to stamp out a lot of the niceties that had emerged in the last decade via retention efforts. Some are more optimistic, but the frozen salaries, vanishing bonuses, and minimal mentorship programs might be here to stay. The balance of power has shifted from recent graduates back to firms and their partners, as even elite grads are just hoping to land a job. Three years ago, cream-of-the-crop prospects were able to shop around and put pressure on firms to create a more welcoming, forward-thinking environment.

2012 may well signal the end of the current panic-stricken job climate, but it will also likely give rise to a whole new reality. Even as firms build back out hiring and recruiting efforts, we may not see the same with programs aimed at retention. This is likely to mean even tougher conditions in an industry already known for long hours, high stress, and lack of work-life balance.