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Unemployment crisis for law school grads deepens

Published: Wednesday, April 10 2013 12:10 p.m. MDT

The job crisis for recent law school graduates just keeps getting worse. The problem is no longer limited to no-name law schools churning out unemployable graduates, Atlantic Magazine reports. Graduates from some of the top law schools in the U.S. are struggling to find work, too.

"Nine months after graduation, just 56 percent of the class of 2012 had found stable jobs in law — meaning full-time, long-term employment in a position requiring bar passage, or a judicial clerkship," the story said. " ... Meanwhile, a full 27.7 percent were underemployed, meaning they were either in short-term or part-time jobs, jobless and hunting for work, or enrolled in another degree program."

Some of this isn't news. What are different are the high underemployment rates for graduates of the nation's top 25 law schools. Underemployment hits double digits for schools listed below ninth-ranked University of California, Berkeley. For the last 10 schools on the top 25 list, underemployment affects one in five graduates nine months out of school.

That's bad, but the situation gets much worse for students from law schools not among the top 25. Business Insider accorded Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego the dubious distinction of having the worst unemployment record. More than 31 percent of graduates had no job at all after nine months out of school. To make matters worse, Thomas Jefferson graduates have an average debt load of $168,800, according to U.S. News and World Report. That's the highest debt figure for any U.S. law school.

Unemployed lawyers are not without recourse, however. Despite the glut of law school graduates, rural Americans are increasingly without lawyers, the New York Times reported.

Only 2 percent of small law practices are in rural areas, where nearly one in five Americans live, the story said. In the gigantic state of Texas, for instance, 83 percent of lawyers are clustered around Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio.

Last summer, the American Bar Association called for government programs to subsidize lawyers who live and work in rural communities. The first state to act was South Dakota, which passed a law in March to assist the recruitment of attorneys in rural areas.

Sixty-five percent of South Dakota's attorneys live in just four of the state's 46 counties. Under the new law, South Dakota counties can provide five years of incentive pay to attorneys who settle within their boundaries. The annual subsidy rate is $12,000.

The hope is that the incentive will attract people who will not only provide legal services for residents, but also participate in county governments and on school boards.

EMAIL: cbaker@deseretnews.com

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