It’s no secret that the legal job market remains tight. That’s the bad news for many recent graduates. There are many graduates with good grades from respected law schools who find themselves unemployed and unable to find recruiters willing to work with them.
The reasons for this are many. Regardless of law school record or other achievements (i.e., law review, clerkship) there are institutional obstacles that prevent a recruiter from placing an entry level attorney with a firm. Most firms have an entry level training program and recruit those new attorneys through a process of on-campus interviews. As such, the firm does not need the assistance of, and will not pay for, the placement of an entry level attorney. Firms turn to recruiters for the placement of attorneys with at least two years of post-graduate experience.
Due to the glut of attorneys in the legal market, firms are highly selective. They hire those from the best schools, with top grades, with a specific skill set. They have no desire or need to retrain candidates. Recruiters are compensated for providing fee-eligible candidates; those with the exact skills and credentials required by the firm. Recruiters contact and work with only those candidates likely to be interviewed and hired by a firm.
Now having pointed out the not so pleasant side of the current job market, I can happily turn to the good news. You, the entry level attorney, or even those out on the open market for a year or two have a solution – it’s called contract attorney work. Legal staffing agencies match client needs with available attorneys on a contract basis. This arrangement affords you the chance to work at a firm that would otherwise not hire an entry level attorney. Often firms will hire a contractor on a temporary basis with the possibility of later hiring that attorney permanently. This gives a candidate the opportunity to both impress the firm and investigate the firm culture. The pay is less but it is more than compensated by the opportunity for permanent employment. Under such circumstances an entry level attorney is offered a chance with a firm he/she would not otherwise gain entry. The attorney is paid hourly, at a rate lower than that of an associate in the same position; and while the rate is less than the yearly salary for that position, it is a fantastic chance to shine, and impress the employer with your skills, wit and amazing work ethic.
For those of you out of the workforce for a couple of years, you too can find a lifeline in the contract staffing world. Firms will gladly bring on a contract attorney who has a needed skill set for project work. As with the entry level attorney, the hourly rate is less than that of an associate in the firm, but the up side is the possibility of permanent employment and in some instances, the working arrangement can be part-time. Part-time project work allows for creative work flexibility. Under this scenario, the attorney caring for an ailing parent or taking on stay-at-home child rearing responsibilities is allowed to work out a flexible schedule that works for all the involved parties.
Maintaining an open mind with respect to pay rates opens up a world of opportunities that can lead to a happy and successful career in the current stagnant legal landscape.
Keep in mind that contract work does have its merits. It can be the bridge between temporary assignments and permanent job placement. It is way to build upon your resume and help entry level and underemployed attorneys gain valuable work experience and help to eliminate big gaps in one’s employment history. Contract work can provide a candidate with the ability to hone his or her skills and generate an income while they are in search of their dream position. Don’t rule it out, it may be the career lifeline that you need.