Despite tenuous market, Stanford law grads continue to find jobs

In spite of a still-slumping economy and amid indications that law is becoming a riskier career choice financially, Stanford Law School students are continuing to have success landing competitive jobs after graduation, according to administrators.

Stanford Law School's pristine reputation, ranked in the top-three institutions by US News & World Report, saved its graduates from job market deficiencies. (IAN GARCIA-DOTY/The Stanford Daily)

As the number of law degrees granted nationwide continues to rise—up 11 percent from a decade ago—tens of thousands of legal jobs have vanished amid significant cutbacks at firms, according to a report by The New York Times this month that drew wide attention.

The result is an oversupply of lawyers, thousands of whom are unable to find jobs in the legal profession. Many of these people, saddled with hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt from student loans, find themselves forced to work for low pay in jobs for which they are overqualified—babysitting and waitressing, for example.

It seems, though, that these trends have been much less pronounced at Stanford, whose status as a top-tier law school has allowed its graduates to continue finding success in the job market. Stanford currently ranks third in the nation in the U.S. News & World Report law school rankings, behind only Yale and Harvard.

“Every graduate of Stanford Law School has a good chance of landing a job at a firm or in a practice area that he or she wants,” said Larry Kramer, Stanford Law School dean.

The statistics seem to support this point. In the class of 2009, virtually every graduating student was employed within nine months of graduation. A majority of them—152 out of 172—were working either at law firms or in judicial clerkships, according to school spokeswoman Judith Romero. Those positions are generally considered to be the most sought-after positions for new J.D. graduates. The 2009 figures compare favorably to years before the economy collapsed, suggesting that Stanford Law School graduates’ job prospects indeed remain positive in spite of the economic downturn.

Current law students echoed these sentiments.

“I think it makes a difference what law school you went to,” said Marisa Diaz J.D. ’13.

Diaz, who is interested in public-interest law, hopes to make use of the law school’s Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP), a program offering financial help to recently graduated law students pursuing public-interest careers. Furthermore, she hopes that in her chosen field, she will be “able to compete better because of the name” of Stanford Law.

In response to suggestions that the legal profession may be becoming less lucrative, students and administrators pointed to the cyclical nature of the economy.

“I feel that the claim that law school is a financially risky choice is a little short-sighted,” said Nikola Milanovic ’11, who is currently applying to law schools and plans to pursue a career in law. “The decline in legal jobs is just reflective of current economic belt-tightening, and probably not an indicator that the sector will be less hospitable in the long run.”

Kramer recommended considering the history of the legal profession over the last few decades, rather than just the last few years, to keep things in perspective.

“The legal market grew by much more during the last 25 years before the slump than it declined during the slump, particularly among the elite and prestigious firms, while the top-tier schools stayed roughly the same size,” Kramer said. “Most of these firms are now well on the path to recovery—growing more slowly than before the slump, but still growing.”