When Carrie Burton ’08 talks about her reasons for going to law school and her vision for her legal career, it’s difficult not to feel her emotions. She speaks in earnest about immigration work and the varied legal questions that intrigue her. She talks with passion about nonprofit work, making it easy to imagine how hard she would work for her clients. And you want her to attain these things, because it’s so clear how much she wants them.
Her obstacle, of course: the economy.The Fall
Burton’s interest in doing nonprofit immigration work led her to the University of St. Thomas School of Law. While she was in school, Burton worked at the Interprofessional Center for Counseling and Legal Services in immigration for two semesters and also did an internship at Advocates for Human Rights in the immigration section. Burton knew she could better serve such clients by further removing language barriers. So, after graduating in May 2008 and taking the bar exam, she decided to delay her job search and visit Costa Rica for a few months. She arrived back in Minnesota at the end of October – and found a very different legal employment market from the one she left.
In October 2008, months and years of shortsighted decisions by U.S. financial institutions culminated in a meltdown of mortgages, credit and the stock market. Among the many repercussions throughout the country, and the world, was a quickly contracting job market.
In the first three months of 2009, more than 3,100 lawyers in the United States were laid off, according to the Associated Press. In Minnesota, the state Department of Employment and Economic Development reported an unemployment rate of 8.2 percent. For Minnesota lawyers, this has translated into layoffs, salary freezes, later start dates for new hires and a seemingly across-the-profession hiring freeze.The St. Thomas law school reported that at the time of graduation last year, 44.5 percent of the class of 2008 was employed. This year, approximately 34 percent of graduating students of the class of 2009 are employed, with 3.4 percent going to graduate school for a full-time degree program. However, in surveys taken nine months after graduation, the class of 2008 indicated an 87 percent employment rate and the class of 2007 had a 92.9 percent employment rate.
Roy Ginsburg has witnessed from a close seat the impact on individual’s careers. Ginsburg, in addition to practicing law, works as an attorney coach, a job that ranges from helping people develop their legal practice to counseling out-of-work attorneys to find new placements. He helps broader groups through CLEs on business development – and, lately, he gives more talks on dealing with a job search.
Ginsburg noted the economy’s effect on every aspect of the legal profession. Just on a surface level, law students and out-of-work attorneys have to expand their job-search strategies, and all others must develop their marketing skills, as clients become harder to find and retain.
“The more-recent graduates will have to be more flexible because of the increased competition; they will have to try and find the job that balances what they desire with the necessity of having a job,” Ginsburg said. “For all others, they have to enter that foreign territory of marketing themselves, because that increased competition means you have to be more than a good lawyer – you also have to be able to establish relationships.”
Alanna Moravetz, director of the Office of Career and Professional Development at the law school since last May, echoes Ginsburg. She knows that the current economy is not without its challenges, but she assures students and alumni that options are still out there, both for those looking for work and those unhappy in their current job. “I keep hearing that there are still jobs out there,” she said. “Getting them may not be easy and may take a lot of creativity, but they are out there.” The Search
Burton would be the first to attest to the effort required in a job search. In addition to the many résumés she sent out, Burton began to network – a lot.
Her mentor from her St. Thomas days, director of the now closed Centro Legal, Karen Ellingson, and St. Thomas Adjunct Professor Kathleen Moccio were two of the first people who connected Burton to others. Meetings and coffee breaks with attorneys led to discovering other names, expanding the complicated spreadsheet of people and connections she has recorded. According to Ginsburg, Burton is doing exactly what she should by prioritizing her networking.
“As much as lawyers don’t want to hear this, most jobs are found through networking,” Ginsburg said. “This doesn’t mean taking people out to fancy dinners. It means staying in touch with people and developing one-on-one relationships. Smart, talented lawyers are found in a lot of places; lawyers with people skills are not.”Another common thread is the value of volunteering.
“Volunteering allows you to meet people and keep developing your legal skills,” Moravetz said. “It also doesn’t hurt that if a position comes up, your face and work are fresh in the employer’s mind.”
Martha Delaney, assistant executive director at Volunteer Lawyers Network (VLN), said that both the need for volunteer services and the number of lawyers volunteering has continued to increase in the last six months.
“It’s a great way for lawyers to get experience, but it’s also amazing how much difference just a small amount of work from a lawyer can make in a person’s life,” Delaney said. “Lawyers have unique skills that allow them to quickly get through a lot of red tape with which most people struggle.”
Even though resources for nonprofits are decreasing, Delaney said that places such as VLN will train any volunteer – as long as they are willing to make a commitment to their client.
“People using volunteering while they look for a job need to remember one caveat: They cannot give up on their volunteer case just because they found a job,” Delaney said. “It’s hard on us, because we’ve mentored the lawyer and used our resources. But it’s hardest on the client, who will have trouble finding another lawyer to take a case that is half-finished.”
For Burton, volunteering is not only a way to a job, it is how she stays inspired to keep pursuing her goals. When asked about how she remains motivated to keep applying for jobs, Burton did not focus on all the effort she has expended in her job search. Instead, she thought about the volunteer work she does, teaching a few St. Paul families to speak English.
“I get to work with people, learn about different places and be present in my community,” she said. “I guess that is part of what keeps me applying – knowing and being reminded that I do feel passionate about this.”
Searching is not limited to those looking to start or change jobs; everyone must reassess how to develop a practice and a professional identity that help the country avoid another such financial meltdown.
Professor Neil Hamilton, director of the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions, recognized the current crisis was a “colossal failure of trust. We had a whole financial system built on trust, and I believe that it will take an entire generation to rebuild that trust,” Hamilton said. “Even though lawyers are not in the spotlight, we played a significant role – in the government, controlling regulations, and in the private sector, as counselors and transaction engineers. And everywhere there was outrageous risk-taking.
“Part of rebuilding the trust that was lost has to be the development of ethical skills and practices that engender that trust,” Hamilton said.The Lessons
Burton recently found a job doing document review for a Twin Cities law firm. She feels fortunate to have the job, but considering her goals and motivations, it is not where she hoped to be right now. She continues to apply for public-interest jobs in Minnesota and immigration jobs all over the country.
But the months she has spent applying are starting to catch up with her. “Constant rejection for months is pretty defeating,” she said. “I do wonder when I’ll get to the point when it just gets to be too much.”
Ginsburg acknowledged the heavy emotions that can accompany the current situation. “These lawyers being laid off or having trouble finding jobs are people who have never ‘failed’ at anything in their lives,” Ginsburg said. “There are a lot of emotions, especially because all these people are ultimately the victims of circumstance.”
Both Ginsburg and Moravetz talked about how their career counseling involves teaching people to recognize and handle these emotions.
“Law students invest so much in their educations that they have every reason to be angry, and they have a responsibility to manage that anger,” Moravetz said. “Staying positive is really tough, and it is really important.”
Learning how to recognize and handle emotions such as anger and anxiety develops resilience that provides skills for coping with change and the inevitable low points in one’s career.
“People starting their careers need to realize that they will experience this again, whether it is a downward turn for the outside world or an individual circumstance,” she said. “Either way, people need skills to lean on when such events replay themselves in different ways throughout their careers.”
Hamilton saw students in a similar situation when he was a professor during the early 1980’s recession, and he emphasized that everything turned out fine for those graduates, especially those who used the situation to learn about themselves and their own strengths. “Everyone has to face the situation, but in facing it, each person can discover how much they have to offer.”
And in the end, the most important lesson of this period may be that of kindness. Burton’s willingness to keep trying is strengthened by the encouraging response she has received from the lawyers she has met simply through networking.“The incredible generosity of the lawyers I’ve met is so unexpected but completely appreciated,” she said. “It reminds me every day that when I do get a job I’m passionate about, I have a responsibility to others to help guide them in navigating the difficult parts of their careers.”
Author: Laura R. Hammargren is a 2008 graduate of the University of St. Thomas School of Law, where she was editor-in-chief of the Law Journal.She is a law clerk for Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Helen Meyer. In November, she will join Dorsey & Whitney L.L.P. in Minneapolis as an associate.