Denver Bar Association
February 2010
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Recent Law Graduates Try to Stay Up in a Down Economy

by Natalie Lucas

Although both the University of Denver and the University of Colorado law schools have had recent excellent Bar passage rates, new graduates are experiencing short-lived feelings of success. Simply having a law license is not enough to get a job. In today’s legal market, recent law graduates are competing for limited jobs with candidates who have many years of experience. Graduates today must find creative ways to stay afloat through the troubled economy. 

For Joe VanLandingham, a 2009 DU law graduate, the future looked bleak during law school when only three employers participated in on-campus interviewing. VanLandingham, who graduated No. 5 in his class, sent his résumé to more than 100 Colorado law firms, but did not get a single interview. VanLandingham eventually landed his job through a contact he made during the Barrister’s Moot Court competition. He said many of his fellow graduates are still unemployed. A few have resorted to hanging their own shingles. 

Although most law students appreciate the opportunity to live in Colorado, the location makes it more difficult to find jobs. According to Misae Nishikura, the Assistant Dean of Career Development at the University of Denver, the Denver metro area is one of the more competitive markets in the country. Data for the class of 2009 will be released soon.

Nishikura said her office is encouraging graduates to stay flexible in their job search. “Even if they want to live in Colorado, we suggest they look in other locations to obtain a couple years of experience, and then try to move back,” Nishikura said.
Additionally, graduates are finding themselves searching beyond conventional private firm jobs. Zachary Christensen, a 2009 DU law graduate, admitted that his job search was very difficult. Christensen believes keeping an open mind is important. After taking extended offers to stay on as an intern at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, it eventually resulted in a full-time position in subcontract work. “I never would have thought about doing in-house counsel work right out of law school, but I love it,” Christensen said. “There is a huge world of legal opportunity that is not found in a law firm, and sometimes these opportunities are the best-kept secrets out there.”

Bryan Caylor, another 2009 DU law graduate, worked at an internship at a firm for almost nine months. However, unlike Christensen, the internship did not end up in a job offer. Caylor learned, however, that later events occurred at the firm, including staff reductions. Caylor said, “In some ways, I was happy not to have received a job offer that later might have been rescinded or deferred like other people that I know.”

During his downtime, Caylor volunteered with Metro Volunteer Lawyers. Nishikura also counsels recent graduates to use their downtime to volunteer, perform contract work, or take on temporary projects. She said many district court judges are looking for interns because the State of Colorado is under a hiring freeze. She also recommends that graduates look for opportunities to pair up with a practicing attorney to write an article and get published. These activities will help graduates stay active, network, gain experience and polish their skills. 

Nishikura tells recent graduates to do activities every day to work toward their goal, whether it is making phone calls to contacts, searching Internet job postings or reading legal publications. She also suggests that graduates keep a daily log of their activities. “The structure can boost morale,” Nishikura said.“We are telling graduates to do all the things we normally recommend. However, in this economy they have to do more of everything.”

Law students tend to be individuals with “Type-A personalities” who have succeeded in almost everything throughout their lives. Not being able to find a job can thus be particularly disheartening for them. However, it is important for recent graduates to not lose a hopeful and positive attitude. Caylor tells graduates seeking work: “Do not isolate yourself. Being unemployed is not a disease. Although things may stink, do not let this affect how you interact with other people, including those who may be in a position to hire you.”

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