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Lawyer glut means law schools need to prepare students for career success

Because of the competitive job market, several Florida law schools are trying to provide students with a competitive edge.

With about 100,000 attorneys now in Florida, and many others who hold a law degree living in the Sunshine State, it has become harder to find a job and compete for clients.

Since 2000, five new law schools have opened up in Florida, and although each tries to offer something unique, eight of the state’s 12 law schools experienced lower enrollment last year, according to a news report.

To get an idea how the number of lawyers has jumped, there were just 27,000 licensed attorneys in 1980.

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Some attorneys also claim that with all of those lawyers out there, there are more lawsuits than there would have been if the number of attorneys was smaller. It certainly is harder to land a job, fees may be more competitive for clients, and there is more competition in recruiting clients. And lawyers may find they have to specialize in whatever field currently is in demand.

According to recent American Bar Association national statistics, 57 percent of 2013 law school graduates, within nine months of graduation, were employed in a job that requires a bar admission, while about 10 percent of graduates were employed where having a J.D. was an advantage, InsideCounsel reported.

Because of the competitive job market, several Florida law schools are trying to provide students with a competitive edge.

“Our curriculum in the business law sector has exploded,” Donald J. Weidner, the dean of Florida State University College of Law and a noted authority on partnerships, fiduciary duties and real estate finance, told InsideCounsel in an interview.

He confirms that while all law school graduates face a “very tight” job market, the faculty and placement office at FSU heard from lawyers who said they want to hire new associates who can read a balance sheet and know something about the working world of business clients. As a result, the law school has added courses in financial accounting, statistics, law and economics, and offers students the chance to take part in a business law clinic.

Like many other law schools, FSU also has extensive networking opportunities for students with the school’s alumni. The students also get to meet via teleconferencing technology with potential employers. One example of what the school is providing are regular lunchtime sessions, called Networking Noshes, where law students meet alumni and others in the legal field in a small group. They come from a variety of sectors, including some from corporate legal departments. Another innovative approach used at the law school is Mach Speed Mock Interviews. The program applies the concepts of speed dating to job interviews. Students present resumes to attorneys and the two undertake a mock interview for four minutes. Then, the students switch to another attorney. Students get critiqued on their resume, appearance, eye contact and oral communication skills.

“They get a lot of feedback in a short period of time,” Rosanna Catalano, associate dean for Placement at FSU, said in an interview.

She brings a lot of varied experience to her own post, having been executive director of the Florida Elections Commission, an assistant state’s attorney, an assistant general counsel for the Florida Department of Health, and an assistant attorney general in Florida.

Based on her own career, and feedback from attorneys, she recognizes the importance of students developing networking and relationship-building skills.

“A lot of networking takes practice,” she explained.

In addition, interpersonal skills are among the skills that employers look for when hiring staff. “People don’t hire resumes; they hire people,” Weidner said.

Despite the competitive job market, FSU’s law school as of December had the highest job placement of any law school in Florida, the school says. Also, FSU was 18th in the nation among public law schools in job placement, and 39th in the nation among all law schools, the school adds.

Stetson University College of Law has also worked to make students more competitive in job searches.

“Stetson students have done extraordinarily well in the marketplace in the United States, even when the number of legal jobs drops,” Christopher M. Pietruszkiewicz, dean of Stetson law school and a former president of the Southeastern Association of Law Schools, said in an interview.

And he points out that even though the state of Florida has about 100,000 lawyers, there is still an undersupply of attorneys who work in fields that benefit the community, especially those of modest means. He calls it a “justice gap.”

“We try to help close that justice gap,” he said. The school offers practical experience for students who work to help the elderly and veterans, two large demographic sectors in the state.

In addition, realizing that lawyers work in a team environment, the school helps students develop such skills as negotiations and mediation. Another focus is building the skills needed to interact with future clients.

In addition, key parts of the school’s offerings include trial advocacy and legal writing, which are at the top or near the top among all U.S. law schools based on U.S. News & World Report rankings.

Contributing Author

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Ed Silverstein

Ed Silverstein is a veteran writer and editor for magazines, websites and newspapers. A graduate of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, he has won several...

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