By JONATHAN GANCI
Capital News Service
LANSING – There may be light at the end of the tunnel for job-hungry law school graduates.
While the state’s economic recovery continues and competition for jobs remains high among an abundance of new and recent law school graduates, lawyers say the legal market is showing signs of growth.
Maureen McGinnis, chair of the Young Lawyers Section of the State Bar of Michigan, said the job climate seems to be improving.
“There was definitely a time period that many of the new lawyers I was meeting were going down different career paths, looking more out of state or opening up their own practice,” said McGinnis, who practices in Troy. “At this point I’ve seen more movement to firms and more opportunities opening up.”
McGinnis said while positions are opening in private practice, the public sector remains stagnant.
“There are so many budget constraints for municipalities across the state that there isn’t much movement in the governmental side of practice. It’s the private side that is showing improvement.”
Charles Toy, the associate dean of career and professional development for Thomas M. Cooley Law School, said that there is a market for legal expertise.
Toy said in every county, at least 40 percent of people who need representation are unable to afford lawyers.
Toy said that number climbs to 70 percent in some counties.
“There is a lot of demand for attorneys,” Toy said. “The problem is a lot of attorneys are not charging rates and giving services that a lot of our population can afford or needs.”
According to Toy, new graduates need to go to where the bulk of the market is, rather than believing big-firm jobs with high salaries are readily available.
“Most of the work is in small law firms,” Toy said. “The pay and employment rate there is pretty good.”
According to the State Bar, 38 percent of members of its Young Lawyers Section work in firms of two to 10 people.
Toy said that the retirement of baby boomers could have a positive effect on young attorney who are job-hunting.
“For those just getting out of law school, that demographic is going to help,” Toy said. “Attorneys are going to retire and there will be a lot of openings.”
According to Ross Bower, an Okemos attorney, some fields show growth.
For example, Bower said that his firm used to have a heavy load of zoning cases, but now sees growth in tax cases.
Even with improvements in the market, students “can’t graduate law school and expect a job to be waiting,” Bower, who is president of the Young Lawyers Section of the Ingham County Bar Association, said.
“Graduates have to get out there and start networking,” Bower said “They have to make personal contacts to get their foot in the door for that first job. They have to develop personal relationships with people so when a job is available, they’re thought of.”
Rob Tyree, a third-year law student at Cooley’s Lansing campus, said networking is the biggest factor in finding work after academic performance.
Tyree said building connections has landed him a judicial clerkship and will help him get a job after passing the bar examination.
“ It’s important to make professional contacts and to do things in the community,” Tyree said. “That way people could put a face to my name and see what kind of worker I am.”
For some soon-to-be graduates, networking hasn’t been enough.
Jessica Robison, who will graduate from Michigan State University College of Law in May, wants to stay in the Midland area.
“In general it’s tough right now,” Robison said. “It’s an even harder market for me because I‘m more limited in where I want to be.”
After passing the bar, Robison said that bar associations, coupled with experiences with externships, could help her land a job.
According to McGinnis, bar associations can provide recent graduates with networking opportunities, as well as other services.
“A lot of programming has been geared toward resume writing, job interview skills, debt management and alternative career opportunities,” McGinnis said. “There has been a shift in programs offered by bar associations dealing with those types of topics that will benefit someone coming out of law school without a job.”
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.