ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
And here's a measure of the economy today. Time-wise, if we had five law students from a highly ranked law school, five people about to collect their law degrees and enter the job market, their prospects would typically make us feel at least a twinge of envy: first-year associate jobs that pay more than most people make deep into their careers, or prestigious clerkships or interesting government jobs before going to a law firm. In any case, a solid course toward repayment of all those student loans.
Well, the recession may be technically over as far as the economics department is concerned. But for graduating third-year law students, even at Georgetown University Law School, the economy looks pretty bleak. And that's where our guests are from.
And why don't the five of you introduce yourselves?
Ms. BECCA RICHARDSON (Georgetown Law School): Hi, my name is Becca Richardson.
Mr. JOEL FLORESCU (Georgetown Law School): My name is Joel Florescu.
Mr. AARON ROWDEN (Georgetown Law School): My name is Aaron Rowden.
Ms. JESSICA BOGO (Georgetown Law School): My name is Jessica Bogo.
Mr. JASON LEWIS (Georgetown Law School): And my name is Jason Lewis.
SIEGEL: Let's begin with Becca Richardson. Why don't you start by telling us what you'd really like to be doing next year, what you thought you'd be doing next year, and what you actually will be doing next year.
Ms. RICHARDSON: I will be going into the government next year, and I'm actually pretty excited about that opportunity. But it isn't something that - if you had asked me 10 months ago, it isn't something that I thought I would be doing.
SIEGEL: You would have said I'm looking forward to working in the federal government after I graduate law school.
Ms. RICHARDSON: Or I would not have said that I am looking forward to working where I am working in the future because I didn't know it existed, so.
SIEGEL: Why don't you tell us what agency you will be working at?
Ms. RICHARDSON: I'll be working for the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, which is a very small, independent agency.
Mr. FLORESCU: I had planned to get involved in international arbitration or maybe tax law. I also had sort of an interest in labor law, but that's not going to happen. It seems that next year, I think I'm going to join up with a friend of mine who already has her own small practice in California, and just see how that works out.
SIEGEL: Aaron Rowden, what did you look forward to doing next year, and what do you now expect to be doing next year?
Mr. ROWDEN: Well, when I first came to law school, my hope was that by this time, I would have a job somewhere in the area of world trade, probably working for a nongovernmental organization, maybe a firm. However, since those things haven't happened, I am returning to the state of Maine so that I can run for the state legislature for District 84.
SIEGEL: So you'll be able to run and say, I know what it's like in this economy to be looking for a job and not find one.
Mr. ROWDEN: Certainly.
SIEGEL: Jessica Bogo, what had you expected for this year, and now what do you expect?
Ms. BOGO: Well, I went to law school just wanting to become a practicing litigator. I ended up working for a firm over the summer and loved it, and would love to be working with them. But the economy the way that it is, we have a fellowship where we're working with a nonprofit organization for the first year.
So for my first year out of school, I will be working with the Volunteer Legal Services Program with the San Francisco Bar as a federal litigation attorney, so I still get to do what I want to do.
SIEGEL: So explain this, you've been given a job by the law firm...
Ms. BOGO: Yes.
SIEGEL: ...but that job won't begin for another year and a half after you leave law school?
Ms. BOGO: Right.
SIEGEL: Jason Lewis, what about you?
Mr. LEWIS: Well, I left a Ph.D. program to come to law school. And I don't know what I necessarily expected my job prospects would be, but I certainly thought I would be making, you know, six figures the first year out. That is not going to be the case.
Right now, I'm still sort of uncertain what I'm going to be doing after graduation, but I'm very strongly leaning towards the idea of just hanging out my own shingle and giving it a go as a solo practitioner.
SIEGEL: I'm curious, all of you - generally, how many jobs have you applied for in this...?
Mr. FLORESCU: Hundreds.
Mr. FLORESCU: And I think that's probably the case for all of us.
Mr. ROWDEN: Certainly.
Ms. RICHARDSON. I've sent out at least 150 resumes and cover letters.
Mr. FLORESCU: I have to say that we five on this panel are a bit unrepresentative of the legal industry as a whole. I think that for a lot of the schools below us, it was a struggle for a very long time. Now, their struggle has become our struggle. Now, we have to deal with the same sort of problems that they have been facing, and we're not representive of the entire class of 2010. We're in a top law school.
Mr. FLORESCU: And just because we're struggling now, it doesn't mean that everyone else has had it honky-dory for the past 10 years.
SIEGEL: Georgetown typically rated at least among the top 15, if not the top 10, law schools in the country, as the ratings change from year to year. So, Joel's picture is a very pessimistic one. And I wonder whether that's one that the others among you share, or does this feel like a bad bump in an otherwise straight road that will work out well in the end? Jason Lewis?
Mr. LEWIS: I think that a lot of the real problem that's happened to the legal profession is that now we're suffering because the economics of the large law firm just doesn't work. You know, I think that's why you've seen - not many of the firms have gone under, but one of the things that I hope that does come out of this is a restructuring of it.
And maybe law students are going to have to realize that coming out of law school after a three-year education, and expecting $160,000 a year is just not a realistic business model.
Ms. RICHARDSON: I do think that our generation, be it our year or the year behind us -and maybe the year in front of us, or something like that - I think we did kind of get the rough end of the stick just because we didn't know that the economy was going to take a downturn when we signed up for X number of loans every year.
And if the economy does turn around, which I'm optimistic - maybe because I have to be - but if the economy does turn around and law firms start hiring again, they're not going to hire us. They're going to hire the class that's behind us, who are coming straight out of law school, who they can train up in the way that they always have.
SIEGEL: Because this is a career in which you get on the escalator at a...
Ms. RICHARDSON: Yes.
SIEGEL: ...particular time, in a summer when you're at law school. They look you over and you look them over. And then you...
Ms. RICHARDSON: Yes. Law firms generally don't hire you out of government or out of, you know, being a private practitioner. They generally hire you straight out of law school or from another comparable firm.
SIEGEL: Does this feel to you like some piece of terrible economic weather that's hurting us for a couple of years but, you know, the sunshine will come out, maybe we'll be set for a loss but things are going to return to something like the old normal? Or do you feel that what's happening right now is some fundamental change in the way we live, support ourselves, and think about work? What do you think, Jessica Bogo?
Ms. BOGO: What I think that the current economic climate has given us is an opportunity to really look at who we are and what we want, and make sure that what we bring to the table is valuable. And so being able to really assess and make sure that what we are offering is valuable, I think is a change that will be good going forward, and I would hope would stay.
Mr. LEWIS: Well, what I think is, we might actually end looking at two separate legal economies. The one that is the big-firm economy that we have now, it's not going to go away. But because you're going to end up with, you know, probably five years of lost attorneys, hopefully, those attorneys will be able to innovate and will be able to create, you know, something that's different.
Now, it's not going to replace the large-scale law firms, but I think it gives us the opportunity to innovate, to create new ways of doing legal practice and legal services.
SIEGEL: Well, good luck to all of you, and thanks to all of you for talking with us about your situation.
Mr. FLORESCU: Thank you.
Mr. LEWIS: Thank you.
Ms. BOGO: Thank you.
Mr. ROWDEN: Thank you.
Ms. RICHARDSON: Thank you.
SIEGEL: We're talking to third-year Georgetown University law students Becca Richardson, Joel Florescu, Aaron Rowden, Jessica Bogo and Jason Lewis.