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Release: May 6, 1999

1999 shaping up to be a good year for law school graduates

IOWA CITY — By most indicators, 1999 looks like it will be a great year to be a law school graduate. And, according to the University of Iowa College of Law placement office, in 1998, 220 law firms conducted on-campus interviews, the highest number in the last six years.

The on-campus interview numbers are not expected to decline, says Karen Klouda, director of career services at the College of Law.

The National Association of Law Placement, an organization that compiles comprehensive data about law firm hiring, reported late last year that the job market, while "exceptionally good for students, is exceptionally challenging for employers. It "is exactly like it used to be just before the national recession that staggered the legal community and suspended legal hiring," in 1990.

"There are certainly positive indicators that show the employment opportunities for law graduates rarely have been better, says Paula Patton, NALP executive director. "But it would be hard to project three to five years down the road," Patton says.

"What makes this a good year is the vitality and vigor of the market economy. Its highs have a trickle-down effect and law firms are growing, and looking for new talent," Patton says.

Patton says the strong economy is driving some firms to merge with others and to expand. NALP reported in November that some firms are growing at rates up to 52 percent per year.

Although there are several months before June, August and December graduates get their diplomas, the booming economy and increased campus recruitment visits indicate the immediate job outlook for the Class of 1999 is favorable, Klouda says.

The number of firms that are signed up to interview law students in the fall exceed the number registered last year at this time. "The 1999 graduates have done well in the job market," Klouda says.

Jason Sawyer, who will earn a law degree from the UI in May, accepted a job with a mid-sized Cedar Rapids firm last year. Sawyer, who ranks among the top one-third of the 178 May 1999 graduation applicants, said he thinks his chances of succeeding and making partner at a smaller firm are greater than at a larger firm, which tends to pay a higher starting salary.

Annually, the placement office conducts an employment survey of that year’s graduates. The survey shows a sizable number of UI law graduates have chosen to remain in the state. Nearly 60 percent of the recent graduates are employed in the Midwest, with 39 percent opting to practice in Iowa. The average in-state starting salary is $33,814; the average out-of-state salary is $59,586.

Last year the college graduated 215 students; 213 responded to the survey. The office’s jobs report for the Class of 1998 shows that 99 percent of the respondents who desired employment are employed. The majority of them, 175, reported full-time employment in a law-related field.

The current jobs forecast is a turnaround from the abysmal early 1990s economy that saw a large number of attorney layoffs, many that were attributed to a decrease in the number of mid-level associate attorneys employed by firms. NALP reported that shortage is now "fueling a lateral market that has out-paced inflation by as much as 16 percent.

"In addition, there have been fewer law school applicants, which has predicated a reduction in law school class size." The Class of 1999 will be the smallest graduating class of juris doctorate recipients since 1998, NALP reports. "Thus the recruitment and retention issues faced by firms are unlikely to become easier to resolve in the future - - not withstanding another recession."

The National Bureau of Labor and Statistics reports that competition for jobs will increase and continue until 2006. The bureau forecasts attorneys with expertise in intellectual and property rights law and corporate law will continue to be highly sought after.

What firms are most looking for, Klouda says, are talented future lawyers with maturity and strong work ethics.