Monday, January 26, 2009

Law School Expert Blog News

Hi Guys,
This is the first warning I'm issuing that the url for the blog will be changing in the next two weeks - it's going to be based on my LawSchoolExpert website.

The downside is that while things are in transition, I'm unable to comment (long, technically depressing story....)

.....but for some recent people who posted questions, I do want to answer them here:

First, Minah: You won't be rejected without an LSAT score. No one will read your file until it's complete.

And, for the person who submitted the work resume: If it was a good resume that showed your strengths then don't worry. Substance rules.

Goodnight everyone, and keep an eye out for the Great Blog Migration of 2009.....


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Yale taking February LSAT this year

See the Yale Law Blog for details.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Ann Levine Interviewed by LSAT Tutor Blog

Thanks to Steve Schwartz for posting my interview on his LSAT Blog today.
In the interview I discuss the February LSAT, the LSAT writing sample, and common (awful) mistakes made on law school applications.

I look forward to your comments!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Law School Expert's 250th Blog Post

I have been very busy assisting clients through the application process and have not had as much time as I would have liked to share my thoughts on the blog and/or respond individually to as many comments. I am reading everything and responding when I am able, and I do not want to post fluff, but only share information that will truly be useful to law school applicants. I have some fairly random thoughts for this time in the admission cycle that I would like to share.

Some housekeeping:
First, this is my 250th blog post. Thank you for reading with me along the journey, and thank you especially for telling your friends about the blog (especially friends considering applying to law school for the Fall 2010 admission cycle).

Second, I just re-launched a new design of and would love any thoughts you have about the new look.

Third, I will soon be migrating this blog onto my own domain. Please don't be afraid if you come to read the blog and it suddenly looks professional and/or "pretty" - I promise it's still me, just a version of me planning to join 2009.

Fourth, many of you ask very specific questions about your situations - schools to apply to, your chances for admission, etc. I know these are the questions most pressing on your minds, and I do my best to answer them to the extent that I am able. Please be understanding about the fact that these are not questions that are amenable to simple answers; responding appropriately would require significant time to evaluate and consider all of the relevant issues. The blog format is not conducive to this, and -after all - I do give this kind of advice for a living and my clients must continue to be my first priority. Thanks so much to everyone who takes the time to leave positive feedback about the blog being helpful to you; that means a great deal to me and is the reason I spend the time to do this.

Lastly, I do want to tell you I am working on a book based on this blog and it will feature (anonymously) many of the questions I've been asked throughout the last 250 posts. Please stay tuned. It may not come out in time to help Fall 2009 applicants, but Fall 2010 applicants will benefit from all of your experiences and any kernels of wisdom I might have shared in response. Keep an eye out for that announcement in the next few months.

Ok, Now let's talk about law school admission trends/recent observations:

1. Applying late. It feels like more of you are applying later than ever before. This might just be because the December LSAT was a week later (and hence scores were a week later being released) but it definitely concerns me that so many people are still working on applications in mid-January. This is especially true for those of you retaking (or taking) the LSAT in February. I don't want anyone to panic reading this, but I do want you to have a Plan B in the back of your head. Plan B is retaking the LSAT in June/October and applying in September/October of Fall 2010. Of course, this only works if you have gainful employment or no need for gainful employment, but I just want to put this out there.

2. The waitlists haven't gone crazy yet, but they will. Don't get upset about a waitlist decision, just do something about it! If you sit around twiddling your thumbs instead of campaigning to get into a school, then you don't deserve the precious acceptance letter in the first place.

3. General impatience is an unfortunate trend. Please be polite to people who work at law schools. Most of them are not paid well, they are overworked, trying to do a good job, but mistakes do happen. Be professional in all of your dealings; remember that if you act like a jerk (or spoiled brat) these people have the power to walk right into the Dean of Admissions and share a story about the unkind applicant. (An important lesson for aspiring lawyers- treat secretaries/assistants very, very well.)

4. Overestimating your soft factors. I have heard from a lot of people this year touting their extensive, impressive work experience that - after reading 20-some-odd-thousand law school applications- is just not that impressive. This happens with diversity factors too - people who write diversity statements about things that have very little to do with the diversity they bring to the table and more about their parents, grandparents, brother, or best friends or neighbors.

The good news:
1. Law schools are acting predictably, and not crazily, this year.
2. Application rates are not as crazy as people predicted either.
3. I will still be here in the coming months to write about these issues, to share the trends I'm seeing, and to entertain your comments, questions and concerns.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Part III: Observations of the Legal Job Market

9 to 5: 9 Observations Regarding the Legal Job Market & 5 Strategies for New Attorneys Entering the 2009 Legal Job Market – A 3 Part Series (Part 3 of 3)

By Amanda C. Ellis, Esq.

Parts 1 and 2 of this post examined 9 observations regarding the legal job market: (1) layoffs; (2) hiring freezes; (3) pay freezes and bonus cuts; (4) increased bureaucracy in lateral hiring decisions; (5) busy small firms; (6) hot practice areas; (7) geographical variance among practice areas; (8) a slow moving hiring process; and (9) importance of law school grades. For recent graduates looking for jobs or third-year law students who are expected to graduate in 2009 and have not secured permanent employment, I offer 5 strategies in light of these 9 observations.

5 Strategies for Attorneys Entering the 2009 Legal Job Market:

1. Look at smaller firms. Did you notice that 4 of the 9 observations discussed in Parts 1 and 2 applied specifically to large firms? And, did you notice that they were all negative observations? So much of the news we hear about the legal job market is from and about large firms. And, there is so much emphasis (some say too much emphasis) on large firms at the law school level. I am sure the focus on large firms during law school is attributable to the larger firms conducting on-campus interviews and establishing a presence among law students.

However, you must remember that the overwhelming majority of new law graduates do not begin their careers in large firms. The National Association for Legal Career Professionals conducted a study on attorneys who graduated in 2006 and found that only 20% went to work for large firms (defined as law firms with more than 100 attorneys); the majority of new graduates went to work for firms with fewer than 50 attorneys. So, while you may feel like your only employment option is with a big firm, there are many, many other firms out there – and, they are busy (see observation #4). It just may take a little work on your part to find them since they aren’t actively recruiting at law schools. Knowing which firms specialize in the hot practice areas will help!

2. Hang your own shingle. I am amazed at the resources and support system available for attorneys looking to open their own practices, and I imagine a significant number of new attorneys (even seasoned attorneys) don’t even realize they exist. Susan Cartier Liebel maintains the site Build Your Solo Practice and wrote a blog post in October suggesting that now, in a shaky economy, is the best time to start your own business. Susan also runs Solo Practice University, a web-based educational community where attorneys can learn from other solo practitioners, marketing consultants, technology consultants and other business professionals about how to plan, build and grow a solo practice.

Carolyn Elefant is another solo practitioner who blogs frequently at about what it takes to make the leap to solo or small-firm practice. Carolyn (@carolynelefant), Susan (@SCartierLiebel) and a host of other solo practitioners actively engage in discussions on the social networking site Twitter. If you don’t have a Twitter account, create one (it’s free) and join their conversations! Additionally, most state and local bar associations also have sections or committees devoted to solo or small-firm practice and offer resources, including resources focused on starting your practice. If you have the entrepreneurial spirit, going solo might be a great option for you.

3. Network creatively. Networking is critical in a good economy and even more critical in our current economy. Every job seeker knows this so you must get creative with your networking. For example, if you had a career before entering law school, how can your previous career help you get a legal job? Perhaps you were a teacher or worked in the education field prior to law school? Network with your old contacts in the field and ask them which attorneys represent the school, the district, etc; if they don’t know, perhaps they can put you in touch with someone who does? Market yourself to firms/attorneys that specialize in education/school law and express your desire to continue your work in the field only in a different capacity (as a lawyer).

Another example of creative networking is to engage alumni from your college or high school or hometown who are also attorneys. Many colleges and universities have their own list-serves or networking groups for alumni attorneys; if your college doesn’t, create one! Finally, if you haven’t added social networking to your networking mix, do so now! This is a topic worthy of an entirely separate blog so I won’t go into great detail here. At a minimum, you should maintain a profile on LinkedIn.

4. Consider relocating to another legal market. Consider other legal markets where you have connections or ties; if the other markets are thriving, particularly in practice areas in which you are interested, consider relocating for a few years.

5. Clerk for a judge on a temporary basis. I know several attorneys who recently clerked in a non-traditional capacity. One attorney clerked for a federal judge for a few months while the judge’s career clerk was on medical leave. Another attorney was hired for a specified term (one year, I believe) to serve as an additional clerk to the bankruptcy judges in the Northern District of Texas after the 2005 Bankruptcy Reform Legislation led to a significant increase in consumer bankruptcy filings. It is certainly conceivable that the current increase in consumer and commercial bankruptcy filings could create a demand for similar temporary positions. Keep your eyes open for positions like these. The website for the Federal Judiciary lists employment opportunities in the Federal Judiciary.

In sum, do not let the negative news headlines discourage you. If you entered law school knowing you wanted to be a lawyer, there will be an opportunity for you; it will just take some longer to find that opportunity so be patient. My first-year torts professor (now, the President of the University of Texas) gave our class some advice that I still remember and believe to be true – no matter where you rank in your class, you will be doing something in 10 years that truly makes you happy. He was right! And, I know the same is true for you!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

9 Observations About the Legal Job Market - Part II

9 to 5: 9 Observations Regarding the Legal Job Market & 5 Strategies for New Attorneys Entering the 2009 Legal Job Market – A 3 Part Series (Part 2 of 3)

By Amanda C. Ellis, Esq.

Part 1 of this post examined 4 observations regarding the current legal job market and all 4 observations concerned large firms – (1) layoffs; (2) hiring freezes; (3) pay freezes and bonus cuts; and (4) increased bureaucracy in lateral hiring decisions. Part 2 of this post continues with more observations of the current legal job market; this part examines observations 5-9.

9 Observations Regarding the Legal Job Market (cont.):

1. Smaller firms are busy. Almost all of my small-firm clients are busier now than they were a year ago. Some are litigation boutique firms that are busy as a result of litigation related to failed financial institutions; others are bankruptcy boutique firms that are thriving as a result of the increased bankruptcy filings. And, many are busy as a result of corporate clients seeking smaller firms with smaller fees, a trend that is likely to continue. My small-firm clients definitely have a positive, upbeat vibe.

2. Certain practice areas thrive in an economic downturn. Certain practice areas spike during economic downturns. Bankruptcy is an obvious example. Litigation is another practice area that usually spikes during downturns; securities and white-collar litigation are expected to be strong during the current recession. Labor and employment litigation usually increases during recessions as well since more companies implement layoffs. IP litigation also remains a strong practice area in most markets.

3. “Hot” practice areas vary by legal market. The demand for attorneys in a particular practice area varies by legal market – what is hot in one market could be dead in another market. For example, asbestos litigation is cold in Texas due to tort reform but hot in California and Pennsylvania. Even among the practice areas that thrive during an economic downturn, there is still some variation. For example, there will always be a greater demand for bankruptcy attorneys in those markets where the majority of the large Chapter 11 cases are filed such as New York and Delaware. We are witnessing this trend today.

4. Firms (of all sizes) take longer to make hiring decisions. Obtaining a lateral position takes longer during a recession. Firms of all sizes are now more particular about which candidates they interview and take their time deciding which candidates to interview. Recently, I’ve seen firms take as long as 4 months before deciding to interview someone. And, I’ve seen firms take as long as 6 months before eliminating candidates from the interview process. So, don’t assume that the firm is passing simply because you haven’t heard from them!

5. Law school grades are more important than ever. At least 90% of the firms I work with (both large and small) inquire about lateral candidates’ law school grades. I won’t get into a discussion here on whether law school grades are more important than the rank of the law school, but I can tell you that the majority of the firms I work with scrutinize a lateral candidate’s grades more closely than the rank of the candidate’s law school. In the past month, I’ve seen 3 large firms move forward with candidates who graduated in the top 5% from a Tier 4 law school; this illustrates that a candidate can do well at a lower tier school and still land in a large firm. The one caveat I would emphasize is that a large firm typically only hires candidates from Tier 4 law schools within the firm’s legal market. For example, a graduate of a Tier 4 school in Texas will have a harder time finding a job outside of Texas even if he or she finished in the top 5% whereas large Texas firms are likely to consider the candidate.

Certain legal markets give greater weight to grades than others. Based on my experience placing lateral attorneys in multiple states, Texas firms have one of the most stringent grading scales. The major firms in Texas base their hiring criteria on the U.S. News Law School Rankings. Generally, a candidate from a Top 15 law school must finish in the top 40-50% in order to qualify as a potential hire for large Texas firms. Candidates from other Tier 1 schools typically must finish in the top 15-25% and candidates from Tier 2 schools must finish in the top 10-15% in order to qualify. Candidates from Tier 3 and Tier 4 schools typically must finish in the Top 5-10% in order to meet the hiring standards for large firms in Texas (though certain Tier 4 schools are favored over others). I’ve worked with firms in other legal markets that are not this strict; for example, the cutoff for Tier 1 schools is the top 50% in some markets. However, I predict that as the recession lingers, many firms will gravitate toward a more stringent scale like the one used by many large firms in Texas.

This part of the post concludes the 9 observations of the current legal job market; part 3 will examine 5 strategies new attorneys can employ as they seek to enter the 2009 legal job market – a market described by the 9 observations in Parts 1 and 2.

Friday, January 2, 2009

9 Observations Regarding the Legal Job Market

I am not a career counselor, but everyone applying to law school should be thinking about the marketability of a lawyer's skills and education. I called upon a real expert in legal hiring, Amanda Ellis, president of Amanda Ellis Legal Search ( Amanda focuses on the placement of bankruptcy attorneys nationwide and of all attorneys in Texas, with a special emphasis on attorneys relocated to Texas. She very kindly agreed to write a 3-part post about the legal job market for new attorneys, which should be of great interest to my readers.

9 to 5: 9 Observations Regarding the Legal Job Market & 5 Strategies for New Attorneys Entering the 2009 Legal Job Market – A 3 Part Series (Part 1 of 3)
By Amanda C. Ellis, Esq.

If there’s one question I’ve been asked repeatedly over the past few months it is this: “how has the economy affected the legal job market?” In the past few weeks, I’ve also received numerous inquiries from contacts on Twitter and friends who are in law school about how the current legal job market and economy will affect new attorneys graduating in 2009 (or those who graduated in 2008 and are still looking for a job). I’ve compiled a list of 9 trends I’ve observed in the current legal market and have outlined 5 strategies to help new attorneys find employment in the 2009 legal job market. Because of the length of this post, I’ve divided the post into 3 separate blog entries: (Part 1) observations 1-4 which happen to be observations about large law firms; (Part 2) observations 5-9; and (Part 3) the 5 strategies.

9 Observations Regarding the Legal Job Market:

1. Large firms lay off associates and staff, rescind offers. According to the Law Shucks Layoff Tracker, 1,762 lawyers lost their jobs in 2008 (this information is also contained in The American Lawyer’s The Layoff List, a comprehensive list of all large firms that eliminated associates during 2008). The layoff trend began in January 2008, primarily in firms with large structured finance practices; however, the trend spread rapidly in the fall months as certain financial institutions collapsed and credit markets froze. The disaster in the financial markets also caused some large firms to pause and reconsider some outstanding offers. At least one large law firm rescinded offers to 2Ls, and I’ve heard from lateral candidates about a few large firms that rescinded offers to lateral candidates because they wanted to see how quickly the economy rebounds.

2. Large firms invoke hiring freezes (or disguised freezes). In late October, a large firm announced that it had instituted a hiring freeze on lateral associates and staff; the firm made it clear that the freeze would not apply to the firm’s 2009 summer associate class. I’ve seen many other firms take similar steps though they don’t call their action a hiring freeze. Probably the most common approach I’ve seen is the one where firms fill their current hiring needs by pulling associates from slow practice areas – for example, moving a structured finance associate to the firm’s bankruptcy section. Other firms that normally post all of their job openings on their websites have removed all job openings. Another common approach is firms informing candidates (or recruiters) that they don’t have any hiring needs at this point and plan to assess their hiring needs in “a few months.”

3. Large firms freeze associate salaries and cut associate bonuses. It probably doesn’t surprise you that large firms’ bonus announcements to date have been significantly lower than 2007 bonuses. The Above the Law blog tracks 2008 bonus announcements and details in its Associate Bonus Watch. Additionally, at least two large firms have announced salary freezes. I’ve even seen a few firms (primarily, firms dependent on their real estate practices) actually reduce associates’ base salaries; in each case, the firms explained that their actions were preventative measures to avoid layoffs.

4. Large firms seek firm-wide approval on lateral hiring decisions. Most lateral hiring decisions are made by either the department head or by the firm’s hiring committee. In the last few months, I’ve seen more and more firms seeking firm-wide approval on hiring decisions. For example, an IP partner of an AmLaw 100 firm recently informed me that he would have to obtain approval from all IP partners firm-wide before interviewing an IP lateral candidate. It did not matter that the candidate graduated in the top of her class from a top 10 law school; the firm implemented the firm-wide review and approval process as a checks and balances approach in light of the economic downturn.

While observations 1-4 may sounds grim and depressing, you must keep the news in perspective. For example, look at the 1,762 layoffs in the context of the total number of attorneys in the US -- 1,143,358 in 2007 – we are talking about 0.15% of all US attorneys. Also, the observations relate specifically to large firms, yet the vast majority of new attorneys begin their careers at smaller firms (discussed further in Part 3). Part 2 of this post will continue with observations 5-9 and will include some positive observations about the current legal market.