Jun. 1st, 09 · 4:32 pm
Swiped from the National Law Journal, just a perspective on the legal job market for the public-interest (aka, me). A bit long, BTW.
Public-interest sector getting a little crowded
June 01, 2009
Sending incoming associates into temporary public-interest jobs — with a healthy stipend to cover their costs of living — is intended to be a fiscally smart and compassionate way for law firms to handle an overabundance of young attorneys in this dismal economy.
But some recent law school graduates who have spent years preparing for public-interest careers worry that law firms are hurting their job prospects by flooding the already competitive public-interest job market. They say they resent the suggestion that deferred law firm associates can step into a public-service role without, in many cases, having worked with indigent clients in law school clinics or completed internships with nonprofit legal organizations.
“Deferred associates are getting congratulated for going to public-interest organizations in the final hour and being so generous, while the people who were planning on working at these organizations throughout law school and have demonstrated a commitment are forgotten again by the legal establishment,” said Jane Fox, 28, who will graduate from Brooklyn Law School in New York City in early June. She is looking for a public defender position or other public-interest work in New York.
For people like Allison Standard, 24, a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina School of Law who is searching for a public-interest job, the uncertainty over what the law firm deferral programs mean for hiring is unsettling. “The hard part is that there is no easy solution to this,” Standard said. “You can’t blame the organizations for taking the free labor. But people who intended on public-interest careers have been working throughout law school to build a path to these jobs, and they might get passed over.”
Brett Church, an incoming associate at Boston-based Goodwin Procter who chose to work at a nonprofit organization for a year, said he understands why some young public-interest attorneys may resent the deferred law firm associates. However, he sees potential for deferred associates to make a difference in their communities. “In this market, everybody is just trying to get by and find opportunities,” said Church, 28, who plans to work at a Boston-area organization geared toward helping children or young people before focusing on venture capital at the firm. “The fact that I went to Goodwin Procter doesn’t mean I’m not passionate about doing this type of work.”
Public-interest law students in the class of 2009 faced a harsh employment climate even before classmates on the law firm track came into the mix. Paul Igasaki, the deputy chief executive officer of Equal Justice Works, a group that promotes public-interest law careers, said that public-interest organizations have struggled with funding reductions from interest on lawyers’ trust accounts (IOLTA), lower donations and fewer grants, limiting their ability to hire. The associate deferrals represent another curveball. The programs vary by firm, but many involve paying a stipend to associates who have had their law firm start dates pushed back by a few months to more than a year and who choose to work at a public-interest organization in the meantime.
The stipends generally range from $60,000 to $85,000 for yearlong deferrals — meaning that deferred associates will make significantly more money than many public-interest attorneys. Some firms are even covering health insurance costs. By contrast, the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) reported last year that public-interest attorneys can expect to start with a salary of about $41,000. Continue reading →