Dean's Blog - Spring 2010

Dean's Blog - Spring 2010

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Dean Donald Lewis


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Hi.  Welcome back.  By now, we are all well past the holiday season and are now "fired up and ready to go" into the spring semester.

Did you see the article two Sunday's ago in the New York Times about the employment prospects in the big New York City law firms?  It was in the "Sunday Styles" section entitled "No Longer Their Golden Ticket."

Its theme was that the value of a law degree was depreciating.

Until just a few years ago lawyers entering the New York job market could face life of comfort, security and social esteem.  Those days are over, according to the New York Times.

The Great Recession has squeezed the big client companies.  They don't want to pay the hourly rates of new associates.

Business is drying up.  Associates are working longer hours to justify their six-figure salaries.

Life in a big city corporate law firm has always been a grind.  But now young lawyers have lost job security, much less the lifestyle of they might have envisioned by watching TV episodes of "Boston Legal" or, more recently, "The Deep End."

Now, I have worked with East Coast lawyers over my career and have been impressed with their level of legal practice.  They have first-tier clients and cases that challenge the best attorneys in the world.

But they live in an alternative legal universe that centers on values that, I suspect, don't match with most of you who are studying law at Hamline.

Yes, the economy has forced us to rethink our assumptions about to succeed in the legal profession.  We face a changing and uncertain job market.  

But you shouldn't be dissuaded about your career choice, or discouraged about your employment prospects, by the picture painted in the New York Times.

First, the market for our law graduates is very different.

Of those Hamline graduates who go into private practice, only 6 percent of them join law firms with more than 100 lawyers.

The super majority of Hamline graduates in private practice are in much smaller firms, with 2 to 10 attorneys.

We focus on the "middle market" of smaller firms and companies where there are opportunities.  These employers are frankly more nimble and can better manage their operation in down economic cycles.

Second, as job opportunities have contracted, employers are looking for graduates who already have some experience and can hit the ground running.  Hamline produces those graduates.  That's why we have the clinics and practicums.  That's why we have a strongest Legal Research and Writing program in the Twin Cities.  When I visit with practicing lawyers in town, they always comment on Hamline graduates who outdistance others in their ability to adapt immediately to the demands of law practice and needs of clients.  Our skill-based teaching can give us a leg up in this job market.

Finally, don't ever question your investment in a legal education.  Placement in an AmLaw 100 law firm is not the only path to professional happiness and prosperity.  Even the New York Times acknowledged that many law graduates suffering at the big time law firms really want to work somewhere else.  Many of our most successful graduates are in other fields: in business, in health care, in human resources, or in public service.

The range of use for your law degree is as wide as your professional interests and dreams.  And our career services office is here to help you find your pathway to success, even if it is not as a partner at Latham Watkins or Skadden Arps.

See ya' next week.


Posted by Zoe Miron at 08/25/2010 08:49:41 AM