Not much these days for lawyers to love

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The legal profession has contracted to the lowest level since the early 1990s – prompting bar associations, placement offices and legal journals to try to help attorneys find and keep jobs.

Nationwide, about 13,000 lawyers were fired during the first quarter of this year.

In Colorado Springs, Holland and Hart said it hasn’t had any layoffs, nor is it planning any. The Colorado Springs office of Holmes, Roberts and Owen reported only two staff members being laid off because of the economy.

“As for first-year associates, we are deferring the incoming class start date to October 2010,” said Elizabeth Hunter, director of business development and marketing for the firm. “We are offering stipends to these individuals and working to help them find placement in the public interest and nonprofit sectors. With business activity accelerating, we hope to re-engage the associates prior to October.”

Other offices in the firm saw some lay-offs in staff – less than 5 percent, she said. And less than 1 percent of associates lost their jobs.

“The big lay offs have been on the coasts,” said Bill Walters, president of the Colorado Bar Association. “But everyone’s feeling the pinch.”

Well, almost everyone.

Walters said that bankruptcy attorneys and foreclosure attorneys are very busy. Family law attorneys also are in a recession-proof legal area.

But attorneys who were in mergers and acquisitions are seeing serious problems – and the state bar association is trying to help. More than 2,000 lawyers have attended seminars about how to cope with the economic downturn, Walters said.

“Even before the economic situation, we were offering things like continuing legal education, how to move to a different career path,” he said. “But now we have staff resources – two people – whose job it is to answer questions about finding a job or setting up an individual practice.”

The bar association also offers one-on-one counseling for graduates of the University of Colorado and Denver University law schools.

Susani Clayton, assistant dean for career development at CU, said that the help is appreciated.

“We set up on-campus interviews in July and August, so we’re not sure what the upcoming year is going to look like – but we’re getting the graduates prepared for a tough climate,” she said. “The bulk of what we do is to make sure resumes are polished, that they can represent what they know well. We conduct mock interviews.”

Finding a job is all about marketing, she said, and that can be challenging.

“They only have 20 minute interviews,” she said. “So we make sure they get feedback about how they present themselves – it really makes a different. The past few classes, we are seeing people graduate without jobs more often – and that used to be very rare. This year, more students don’t have concrete offers.”

Before the downturn, Clayton said, 97 percent of students had job offers upon graduation.

Nationally, the American Bar Association has responded to what it calls the “legal recession.”

The organization launched an economic recovery resources Web portal that offers job searching, personal development and law practice management tips.

“The ABA wants to work with attorneys so the clients that depend on their help will not find themselves without benefit of counsel as they combat the woes of recession,” said ABA president H. Thomas Wells Jr. “The portal compiles the ABA’s vast resources into a single online site.”

The site, http://new.abanet.org/economicrecovery, also includes information about stress management and savings.

“We have practical advice: what to do if you’ve been laid off, how to make over your resume if your years of experience make you appear old on paper,” Wells said. “We’re also are including links to law practice tools.”

Those links are designed to help firms survive in the current economic climate – without laying off attorneys.

Clayton makes one suggestion: volunteer. Legal experience – paid or not – will make a difference to perspective firms.

“At least you’re out there, you can network, you can show that you’re getting some experience,” she said. “That’s invaluable in this climate. Another good idea: get a position clerking for a judge, at any level. It’s wonderful experience, and a great way to meet people who might be in a position to hire you later.”