Utah state legislature looks to help law school graduates who cannot find jobs

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Lawmakers are concerned that Utah law schools may be pumping out lawyers who can’t get jobs.

During an interim legislative meeting May 21, lawmakers quizzed Utah State Bar officials about the future outlook for attorneys’ jobs. According to experts, the market looks bleak. There are not many jobs available for law school graduates.

The Legislature called Curtis Jensen, president of the Utah State Bar Association, to give an update on the situation. The statistics he gave speak for themselves:

There is one attorney for every 200 citizens in Utah. There are 11,500 members of the Utah State Bar; 8,500 of those members are actively practicing law. Each year the legal field has a growth rate of 4 percent in Utah. Every year there are 47,000 new lawyers and only 22,000 new jobs in the United States.

There are not enough jobs for law school graduates. The members of the council mentioned that there were many J.D. graduates fighting over paralegal jobs. Students are incurring large amounts of debt for the promise of a large payoff after graduation and are finding themselves unemployed.

The council had differing opinions on how this problem should be addressed. Rep. Craig Hall, from Salt Lake, said, “I wish our law schools wouldn’t pump out 300 lawyers when we don’t have 300 new jobs a year. … Law schools have no incentive to decrease enrollment.”

Members of the council advised students to consider the market. Is it worth taking the large investment in law school with no guarantee of a job upon graduating? The council also considered ways to lower law school acceptance rates.

There was talk of lowering lawyer rates. The Bar Association believes lowering rates to $50–$120 an hour would create more jobs. Making legal counsel more affordable could encourage more work. People who do not use lawyers could afford to use one.

Rep. LaVar Christensen, another representative of Salt Lake, gave an alternate view: “I think that people underestimate that a J.D. is a doctorate. If we are worried about unemployment we are underestimating our relations with the business world.”

Christensen believes many graduates would go farther and fare better in business than in law. If juris doctorate holders moved into the business world the unemployment rate would go down and the graduates may be better off themselves.

Having a law degree no longer ensures work. Students need to consider the market and risks associated with entering the legal field. Unlike the Game of Life, lawyers do not make an automatic $90,000 a month after graduation.

James Gilson, president-elect of the Utah State Bar Association, said, “If you are expecting to graduate and make $100,000 a year upon graduating you’re kidding yourself. Don’t count on it.”

In an interview with a Universe reporter and prospective law school student, Jensen and Gilson gave advice on preparing yourself while in school. Jensen said, “As soon as you can you should get involved with the bar and other organizations. Let yourselves be seen and be known out there. You are gaining a good skillset. Lawyers are being trained to be leaders. You are being trained to solve problems.”

Jensen recommended that future and current law school students get involved and make themselves known in law school. It is no longer possible to get a job based off passing grades and good performance in school.

James Gilson, president elect of the Utah Bar Association, answered, “Often times law school doesn’t actually prepare you to practice law. There are many clinical programs that can help you. Be more creative and entrepreneurial minded. There is always room at the top.”

When asked whether it was better to attend a prestigious law school Jensen and Gilson answered unanimously against prestigious law schools.

Gilson answered, “Your job options are better if you graduate at the top of your class at a state school as opposed to the middle of your class at a top school.”

Jensen agreed and reminded students to set their focus: “Look seriously at what your goals are and what your objectives are. If your interest is being an academic then you should consider a top law school. If not, why incur the debt? My only advice is to do well and take advantage of any opportunity to get involved.”

Jensen and Gilson agreed that students’ expectations are too high. It is better to break into the field than be unemployed.

The field is changing, and jobs are scarce. The situation remains the same, and the legislature and Utah bar are hoping students will take initiative to solve this problem.

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