Weathering the Economic Storm: Resources and Alternatives for Young Lawyers
By Jason T. Vail
Jason T. Vail is an Associate Editor of The Affiliate and a Staff Attorney/Legal Editor at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law in Chicago, Illinois.
The current economic downturn is having a significant impact on law firms across the country, and the negative effects are being felt most harshly by newer attorneys and law school graduates just entering the job market. In a recent article by Dan DiPietro in the May 2009 issue of The American Lawyer , the author points to data showing that the decline in demand and profits among most firms throughout 2009 is expected to continue. This will result in ongoing reductions in excess staff capacity, which means fewer employment opportunities for new grads and a threat to job security for newer associates—at least, those who have not yet been laid off. The ABA Journal reports 3,500 law firm layoffs in March 2009, with more expected in the months to come. (Debra Cassens Weiss, Law Firm Layoffs Hit 10K Mark; Thursdays Most Often Bring Bad News , ABA J. Law News Now, posted Apr 13, 2009,
Economic Recovery Resources Website
For those young lawyers faced with employment challenges, help is available. The ABA recently launched a website called “Economic Recovery Resources,” which is designed to support attorneys seeking work in this tough economic climate. The site is available at and features resources in six different categories.
  • The first category focuses on job searches and networking opportunities. A number of helpful articles provide pointers and advice to job seekers, along with a list of books and CLE materials that help overcome obstacles to finding the right job. This part of the site also provides resources to help lawyers use existing and emerging technologies and online networking tools to aid in their job searches.
  • The second category provides links to a number of helpful resources that will assist cash-strapped attorneys obtain low-cost or free CLE credits as well as a variety of affordable insurance products.

  • Employed attorneys will find assistance with professional development issues in the third site category. Resources in this category focus on how currently employed attorneys can enhance the value they provide in their jobs. This page has links to a number of wide-ranging articles on professional development topics, along with links to online resources designed to support professional development, including the ABA YLD Mentorship Project.
  • For those attorneys considering a career transition, such as taking on a consultative role, going solo, or moving to an entirely new career, the fourth category on the site provides a number of articles giving guidance on these and other topics, as well as online resources and training materials.
  • In a difficult economy, solo and small-practice attorneys have a particular need to protect their profitability and improve their bottom lines. The fifth category on the site offers a lengthy list of articles and resources on a wide array of subjects that will help attorneys’ businesses weather tough times and emerge stronger and more profitable than ever.
  • Finally, attorneys struggling in a down economy will understandably experience stress and may have difficulty effectively managing that stress. The sixth category provides a number of supportive resources to help cope with and avoid the detrimental effects of anxiety and stress.
ABA Recession Recovery Teleconference Series for Lawyers—Free for ABA Members
The ABA teleconference series provides lawyers with practical tips and strategies for success in today’s career climate. More than twenty state/local bars hosted listening parties to facilitate their membership’s engagement during the early summer run, which wrapped up June 30.
ABA members can still listen for free by downloading complimentary audio files through the ABA Web Store (
  • How to Sell Yourself: Developing the Perfect Pitch offered practical advice and self-marketing strategies to land a job, get a promotion, and attract new business. * ABA YLD Chair Lizz Acee moderated this program.*

  • Solo tions: Overcoming the Obstacles of Going and Being Solo in a Down Economy featured seasoned and new solo practitioners who advised listeners on the steps involved in setting up shop and surviving as a solo lawyer. * ABA YLD member Anthony Butler was featured on this program .*

  • Recession-Proof Yourself: Take Control in a Down Economy helped lawyers build a solid foundation to reach their career development goals and financial stability. Topics included goal development, work-life balance, networking best practices, and safeguarding finances.

  • Staying Positive in a Down Economy: Beyond the “Group Hug” offered techniques to help displaced lawyers maintain motivation and morale as they seek new career opportunities.
  • “Thanks for thinking about us looking for work or starting a new venture. Applause! Applause!”

  • “Thank you to the ABA for recognizing the need for such programs and to offer them at no cost”

  • “You did a good job and you should be proud.”
Extended Placements and Hiring Deferments
The excellent resources on the ABA website and the teleconference series can be of great assistance to displaced and job-seeking attorneys. Another phenomenon resulting from the economic crisis is that many law firms are either deferring the start date of incoming first-year associates or revoking the firm’s offer of employment. In many of these instances, the firms are encouraging these individuals to undertake an extended placement at a public interest law organization, often providing some financial assistance to those who take the firm up on this opportunity. Many firms have deferred until October 2010, but some of the deferments are through January 2010. Some firms have also encouraged their experienced attorneys to take an extended placement and return to the firm at some point in the future.
Organizations like the Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI) and PSLawNet have played a leadership and supportive role in helping firms develop these new placement models. Guidance documentation from PILI provides these examples of firm public interest placement:
  • Latham recently announced it is deferring the start date for the class of 2009 to mid-December 2009. It is also offering all those in that incoming class the option to further defer start dates to October 2010. The firm will pay those who select the extended deferral option $75,000 and is encouraging, but not requiring, those lawyers to engage in volunteer or community service projects during the deferment period.

  • Morgan Lewis recently announced that it will defer the start dates for new associates so that incoming entry-level associates will start with the firm in October 2010. Each affected individual is being offered the opportunity to work in a public interest organization between October 2009 and his or her start date, and the firm will pay each associate a $5,000 monthly stipend while they work at the public interest organization.
  • Simpson Thacher recently announced that it has extended the duration of its public interest fellowships from three months to one year, with the expectation that associates will return to the firm after their service. The law firm is offering fellowships to fifteen associates with one-to-three years of experience and paying them $60,000 up front. They will not remain employees of the firm while they work for the nonprofit, although they can keep their insurance benefits. Associates can choose which nonprofit organization to work for, and the program is available to associates at all of the law firm’s offices.
These types of public-interest placements are a good option for newer attorneys looking to develop their legal skills while helping to provide much needed assistance to the poor and underrepresented. More information about these alternatives can be found on the PILI website at , which also includes specific information about efforts among Chicago law firms to develop public-interest placement strategies and best practices in that legal community. A national clearinghouse also has been set up through PSLawNet’s website, , for deferred attorneys to find available placements on a national level. PSLawNet has added a new “job type” to its search interface—“Law Firm Associate Host”—to specifically mark positions suitable for these kinds of placements. Searches may also be narrowed geographically and by practice area.