For many aspiring lawyers, the current job market is daunting — there’s a reason U.S. law school first-year enrollment dropped by 11 percent in just the last year alone. But less reported on is what happens when new lawyers finally do find a job: Are they happy?
A new study from the Wisconsin state bar says no. In fact, according to the report, more young lawyers are facing depression-related symptoms and economic strain than ever before. Attorney Arthur Harrington, co-chair of a Wisconsin state bar task force created to study the issue, says new lawyers “are facing a depression, both economically and emotionally.”
More than 200 new lawyers were given a questionnaire by the state bar, and those questionnaires including this open-ended prompt: “Please feel free to tell us anything about the challenges you face as a new lawyer.” And open up they did, as the new lawyers used words such as “terrified,” “disheartened,” and “disillusioned” to describe their feelings in the workforce.
Many young lawyers feel an economic strain in particular, says the report. “My debt is higher than a mortgage for a nice house. It’s all I think about. And I know I will be strapped in a job I don’t want paying debt for the rest of my life,” writes one lawyer. Another writes, “I’m terrified that this is what the rest of my life is going to look like…. I can’t afford a pet, let alone kids. I live paycheck to paycheck. It’s very, very scary and disheartening.”
Others cited the job market as their main concern. “Even though I’ve had a job for the past five months, I don’t feel like I have any job security, and I’m terrified of being back in the job market,” writes one lawyer. Another said the job search left him feeling “suicidal” and “terrified”.
So what can be done about the issue? Among the Wisconsin state bar’s recommendations are multiple to reduce young lawyers’ financial burdens, including offering reduced-rate CLEs and encouraging local bar associations to develop low-cost, in-person luncheon CLE programs. The state bar also advocates more awareness of the rigors of the profession, more practice management and business training opportunities, and possibly a mentorship program to help young lawyers along.
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