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As the economy tanks, interest in law school appears to be up. But students report that in the struggling job market, it can be harder than expected to find employment at a law firm straight out of school.

More students are postponing the professional world by applying to law school, though whether they can parlay those law degrees into jobs is another story. While law school may seem like a safe choice, there are not always jobs waiting at the end of the tunnel. Many students find themselves three years later in the same position they were before—jobless, but with a J.D. and thousands of dollars of debt. "I've definitely seen more students interested in applying to law school and taking the LSAT," said Steve Schwartz, private LSAT tutor in Manhattan and the editor of the "LSAT Blog: Ace the LSAT." "People are deciding that the other opportunity out there [the job market] is just not as appealing," he added. Schwartz isn't the only one noticing a sharp spike in would-be law students. LSAT prep companies are seeing big returns. "In this economy the law industry is definitely facing lay-offs, but more people are applying to law school than ever before. I would say we've seen a 30 percent increase in LSAT students in the past year alone," said David Greenberg of Parliament Tutors. When asked if he expects this increased growth to continue, Greenberg responded, "It seems correlated to the economy. When there are more jobs available, maybe we'll see less people lining up to take the LSAT." Third year law student Milosz Gudzowski had a standing offer, but could understand the possible strain on his peers. "Law firms hire students two years in advance, during the fall semester of a student's second year, so it makes it hard for firms to decide how many people they need. The amount of people needed to work bottomed out all of a sudden so there's a lot less demand now law students," Gudzowski said. Maria Nonaka, a third year law student at Columbia, further attested to the scarcity of jobs for current law school graduates: "For the 3L [third year] class right now, there is really nothing you can do. I am very lucky to have gotten a job, but I know many more people that haven't. Firms don't want to hire 3L's because they assume there's a reason they don't already have a job. If they weren't hired after their second year, firms assume they're not good enough without [the firms] considering the economy." Alternatives to the traditional law employment path—getting a job in a law firm—are gaining popularity. Among these are clerkships, public interest law, and government sector jobs. As more students turn to these options as first choices instead of safety nets, competition is intensifying. "The first option [clerkship] is really an option only for students from top law schools like Columbia, but there's not that many to go around. There's strong competition this year because people from all sorts of law schools, Harvard and Yale included, are looking for clerkships as well," Gudzowski noted. Students are also seeing increased competition in public interest jobs, which frustrates those who had been hoping to go down that career path in the first place. "I've always wanted to go into public interest, but now my concern is that more people are being cored into the public interest sector, and jobs are also being cut from the field," said first year law student Bridget McDevitt. First year law students seem to be more optimistic. Some say they are feeling the negative effects of the job market now, but expect that the situation will have improved by the time graduation comes. "A couple of years ago 1L's [first year law students] could get jobs at major firms during the summer, but now we'd be lucky to get a job at all, whether it pays or not," said first year law student and University Senator Jae Bang. "They [Columbia} are saying it's going to pick up by the time we graduate, though. We're trying to stay positive." Officials at the Law School say they are acutely aware of the economic situation facing their students, and are making efforts to mitigate the effects of a receding job market. Associate Clinical Professor of Law Alex Carter, Chair of Career Services and Professional Development Committee, explained: "The faculty formed the committee at the end of the last academic year to do some thorough research on the legal profession, examine the changes we were seeing, and determine how to strengthen our counseling system so that our students are poised to meet the changing needs of the profession." She added that the Law School had started a first year advising program and shored up mentoring relationships with professors. Columbia's Dean of Career Services Petal Modeste reiterated the fact that Columbia Law School is still a worthwhile investment regardless of the current economic situation. From the school's committees to its Loan Repayment Assistance Program for Public Interest Lawyers—loans used to repay law school debt—Columbia is channeling resources into keeping its students employed and on their feet. "We're doing a lot both on the career services side and the curriculum side, preparing students not just in lawyer skills but also in professional skills," Modeste said. "We're also working closely with alumni, assigned alumni mentors to all our graduating students who are still in the job-search process. Our numbers of people not employed are much lower than that of our peer schools. Our students definitely have an edge up." CORRECTION APPENDED: The original version of this article incorrectly identified Milosz Gudzowski's year and job situation. He was a third year law student, and he had a standing job offer.

Columbia Law School
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