Times are rough for everyone, but law students are still feeling the brunt of the economic contraction as there are less and less jobs. Osgoode and Ottawa students seem to be affected the worst, while Queen’s, Western and UofT have fared slightly better. A total of 351 students were hired by Bay Street firms this year, which can be compared to 379 hires in 2012, 403 in 2011 and 444 in 2010.
Theses figures are available through UofT’s law student paper, Ultra Vires, which describes the situation as a “bloodbath.” The data was compiled through information provided by firms, as well as an internal survey of UofT students. The survey had an 85% response rate, and the full survey answers are available here.
The paper also investigated the factors which helped law students get an interview and a job offer. Grades can help with an on campus interview, and 84%of students who were above the 80th percentile in their class were hired. What also helps getting an interview is having a parent who is a lawyer, so anyone who still suggests that legal hiring is a completely merit-based system probably needs to re-examine those assumptions.
Grades do not help, however, for in-firm interviews and job offers, where self-described extroverts typically had an advantage. Other factors which did not help according to the paper are doing a law journal while in 1st year, having a BCom or Masters degree, an LSAT score, and gender or ethnicity. Although UofT strives “to build a diverse and unique community of students,” the school hardly has the ethnic diversity of Osgoode or Ottawa. An estimated 66% of the students are not visible minorities, and the school body certainly does not resemble the population of Toronto, so the assumptions about ethnicity being a non-factor may actually be premature.
The continued contraction of positions in large law firms may lead to a reexamination for many students about the types of practices they want to get in to. Those interested in more public-facing practices such as criminal law, family, personal injury, wills and estates and immigration, may seriously consider the new Law Practice Program as a viable alternative. Whether these alternatives are being promoted within the law schools and career offices is unknown, but the survey does reveal that the current Bay Street recruitment process leaves many students disillusioned and resentful, even if they are successful in securing a position.
Making the process even more painful is the rising tuition across Ontario law schools. The survey found that 60% of UofT law students will graduate with over $50,000 in debt. Tuition at UofT law, which is the highest in Canada, is currently $28,791 a year plus fees. The situation is not pretty.
Many of my colleagues also comment how law students these days, and “kids” generally, complain far too much. Students may actually have valid reasons for doing so. In his doctoral thesis, recently published in the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Prof. Markus Moos finds sharp declines in inflation-adjusted incomes for millennials suggesting an entire generation will experience a lower standard of living. Moos finds empirical data demonstrating that the societal restructuring since 1981 has left younger people with relatively lower individual income and higher Gini coefficient inequality, and far less institutional redistribution in society than in the past. He describes these changes as “somebody with the same degree, the same job and the same demographic profile is earning less today than they were in the 1980s.”
The result is an increased importance in educational attainment to achieve earnings, as workers in “higher-order occupations” do earn more than in the past. Although law students have it rough, they do have it slightly better than all the other youth in their generation. Moos concludes,
Some social commentators have labelled today’s generation of young adults as having an exaggerated sense of entitlement, with various explanations for the trends. The Occupy Wall Street protests seem to suggest that on some level this sense of entitlement is actually a desire among young adults to receive the same pay as someone did for a similar job 20 years ago, or to see similar (or, dare we say, even lower) levels of social inequality than in the past. Obviously entitlement is not enough to address growing inequality concerns: will today’s young adults stand up to the injustices that social and environmental activists have for the last half-century worked hard to reverse? For our children, we must hope so. Whether or not it will be the Occupy Wall Street movement that spurs broad-based societal change to deal with inequalities remains to be seen.