Every Monday is the Law Student post, featuring topics that are of particular interest to those studying to be the next generation of lawyers.

Good grades.
Law Review.
Moot Court.
Summers with prestigious firms.

It used to be if you had all these things you were practically guaranteed an offer at the firm you summered with. You could almost count on it. You might have worked there after your 1L year, or maybe only the summer after your 2L year-either way, you worked hard, proved you could write a decent memo and handle long hours, and got an offer. The firm paid for your bar review course. They gave you a stipend to live on while you studied. They accepted you in with a fabulous starting salary, and you were suddenly the big-shot lawyer your parents always told their friends you would be.

Used to be.

Now you might have the grades, the publication, the experience, maybe a clinical or judicial internship, too…but no job. Or maybe you still have an offer that hasn’t been resicinded, but you won’t be allowed to start working for another year. Or two.

The economy is impacting nearly every industry. The New York Times points out in an article on the decline of Big Law,  that while the legal industry is not facing a crisis anywhere near the size of the one facing the newspaper industry, times are tough.

The financial crisis has hit Big Law so hard because much of the work the big firms do is mergers and acquisitions, dealing with private equity funds, large corporations, and the like. The only problem is that most, if not all of those transactions required large amounts of credit-and there is no more credit. No one on Wall Street can afford to do a deal, so they don’t need lawyers.

So, what’s a 3L to do?

Maybe there’s no work for the transactional lawyers in this economy, but what about litigation? We Americans love to sue, I’m quite positive that we’re the most litigious country in the world. There must be some litigation jobs, right?

Wrong.

It costs money to sue someone. Unless we’re talking about a personal injury suit with a firm with a contingency-fee system, there are up front costs to suing. Lawyers are expensive, and people just don’t have the money. Litigation departments are downsizing, too.

The facts are depressing, and the situation is leaving a lot of new graduates jobless. I graduated from Wisconsin Law School in December 2008, and my class (which also includes the May 2009 grads) has a job placement rate of 25%. The school is reputable; it’s a tier one school. There are several notable faculty members, the famous Innocence Project clinical program (among others), judicial internships, Moot Court, Mock Trial, three legal journals…Yet despite these programs, the hard work of the students, and the good reputation of the school, only one-fourth of us found work. Depressing.

The point of this post is not to convince new graduates to throw themselves off the roof of the law library. The point is to put the very real and depressing facts out there, and then offer a glimmer of hope. Some suggestions to help you be ready for when the economy finally does bounce back (and it will. Trust me. I also have an economics degree).

First, take the bar. You’ll have to pay for the bar review class yourself, but what else do you have to do but study? You already have loans for school, so what’s another couple thousand dollars? Be ready to work.

Second, find the pro bono programs in your area. Some states have programs where attorneys donate time to fledgling businesses who can’t afford a lawyer. Get your feet wet there. See if your state’s Bar Association has any opportunities. Consider taking on a case from the Public Defender’s office. They usually have more work than they know what to do with, and they might even pay you a little something for each case.

Third, consider education. Definitely take continuing legal education courses offered by the Bar, but also consider your interests. Did you particularly love a certain area of the law? Maybe an LL.M would be a good choice for you. It’s one more year of school, but in one year, maybe the economy will be better, and you’ll have the advantage of more education that others won’t.

Fourth, don’t rule out working as a paralegal or legal secretary. It might not be exactly what you want to do, but it’s work in your field, and it pays the bills.

Finally, go for a walk. Or a run. Or a bike ride. Take a yoga class or learn to sail. Read a book that’s not a treatise. Do something fun, keep a balance to your life, and enjoy the fact that you have some time off from the insane amount of work you did in law school. You may be broke, but at least you can put down your text books, step outside, and enjoy the sunshine.

That’s about all I’ve got. I know it’s not much, and you may have considered these ideas already. Just know you’re not alone, we’re all in the same boat. Try not to be stressed out, and just cross your fingers that the economy makes a speedy recovery–because I know you just can’t wait for that 80-hour workweek.

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Andy Gillin

Andy Gillin received his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of California at Berkeley and his law degree from the University of Chicago. He is the managing partner of GJEL Accident Attorneys and has written and lectured in the field of plaintiffs’ personal injury law for numerous organizations. Andy is a highly recognized wrongful death lawyer in California.