J. Reuben Clark Law School graduates affected by national economy

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Across the nation the number of applicants trying to get into law schools has dropped, and recent graduates are facing difficulties finding full-time, long-term employment.

The J. Reuben Clark Law School is no exception. Over the past 12 years, an average of 76 percent of its graduates have found full-time jobs after graduation, placing the school in the top 15 percent in the country for job placement. However, the school was hit hard in 2011 when only 58 percent of graduates found employment. While the school’s job placement climbed back to 78 percent in 2012, associate dean of external relations Scott Cameron believes that the difficulty graduates are having finding a job is due to the economy.

“A law firm’s staff is dependent on the economy. Lots of law firms downsized because of the economy. When the law firms downsized, they released associates who had one to four years of experience, and then those associates went out into the marketplace and competed with the recent graduates,” Cameron said. “So you’d have students graduating from very good law schools with very good degrees, but they were competing with other graduates from those same law schools who already had years of experience.”

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The J. Reuben Clark Law School is renowned for its low tuition and high placement rate. (Photo courtesy BYU Photo)

Cameron believes this economic downturn has also influenced the number of people applying to law schools. Graduating from law school used to almost guarantee a job.

“Students would say, ‘Well, law school isn’t as sure a bet for getting a good job,’ so the number of applicants decreased,” Cameron said.

According to Cameron, tuition at many law schools has gone up in the last few years, and students are graduating with large amounts of debt. In order to service their debt, they have to look for jobs with a high salary, but there are fewer of those jobs available. BYU has kept its tuition low, hoping this will allow its graduates to find a job.

“Because our board of trustees keeps our tuition relatively low, our students graduate with less student debt, and they have more flexibility when it comes to the job market,” Cameron said. “They don’t have to take a job in a major metropolitan area. They can take a job in a smaller city or even in town and still make enough money to service their student debt.”

Danny Brimhall is a recent graduate who was offered a job at a prestigious law firm in New York City. Brimhall believes BYU  should put more emphasis on helping its graduates find a job.

“If I had one suggestion for the school, it would be to institute a culture of getting a job. It’s just nonexistent,” Brimhall said. “The administration should look to the business school as a guide, because the stark contrast in employment numbers between the two speak for themselves.”

According to businessweek.com, 93 percent of graduates from the Marriot School of Management are offered a job within three months of graduation, compared to the Law School’s 78 percent.

The law school offers an extensive externship program for students, allowing them to get experience with law firms both nationally and internationally.

“One of the best things a student can do is to network and to talk to attorneys that they know and ask them about their practice. They should try to figure out at an earlier stage what they’re most interested in and then try to get some practical experience in that area,” Cameron said. “Don’t wait until graduation to say, ‘Oh I’m finished, I better start working,’ but rather start in your first couple of years to start finding a position that will work for them.”

Brimhall believes that the networking he did at school is one of the main reasons he now has a job.

“I sought out advice from upperclassmen and women, students who already had a great job lined up, on how to approach recruitment,” Brimhall said. “And finally, I hustled, writing cover letters and networking emails for hours and hours.”

The law school also offers various programs for graduates who are having difficulties finding a job, such as its “bridge to practice” fellowship program, implemented three years ago. This program offers recent graduates without a full-time job the opportunity to practice law part-time in a public sector while receiving a stipend, thus allowing graduates to gain work experience.

Cameron believes a degree in law is as useful as ever and can be applied to many different jobs.

“It’s an excellent degree … there are lots of opportunities for employment where the rigorous analytical skills one learns in law school will be of great benefit to them even though they might not be practicing law in a traditional sense,” Cameron said. “They’re using their skills to find the kind of job they want rather than relying on their degree to find them their job.”

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