It is not an easy climate for young lawyers – that is indisputable. A recent report from the American Bar Association shows that within the Class of 2013, only 57 percent of graduates – a little over half – have been able to find long-term, full-time work nine months out of school. The unemployment rate has risen from 10.6 percent in the 2012 class to 11.2 percent. While there has been modest improvement in employment statistics across the board from 2012 to 2013, the numbers are not encouraging. Is there, as some suggest, a ‘crisis’ in the profession?
We would not make light of the difficulties new lawyers face; however, we would also not want to suggest that there are no options following law school. There are myriad opportunities for new lawyers to involve themselves in the profession more fully and a demonstrated need for their skills in the greater Boston community – the challenge is connecting the two. Early involvement in pro bono and legal services work, we have observed, is one of the most effective ways to start to bridge that gap in a way that offers training and continued learning for new lawyers, while assisting those in our community who are most in need.
We have previously mentioned that the rate of pro se litigants across the Trial Court can reach over 80 percent in some counties, a statistic that presents an enormous burden on the courts in terms of time and resources. These unrepresented litigants often do not understand the intricacies of court proceedings and may therefore encounter difficulties in presenting their case.
With the emergence of limited assistance representation (LAR), attorneys can assist these unrepresented litigants with certain parts of their case and help to ensure a more equitable and fair administration of justice. In return, newer attorneys who offer LAR will gain courtroom experience and earn at least part of a fee for the service they provide. The BBA provides general LAR training, as well as breakout sessions led by expert practitioners and judges focusing on how to practice LAR most effectively in the different courts. This is a hugely valuable advantage: you not only acquire a new skill, but you have the opportunity to learn what judges do and do not like to see in their courtrooms.
Similarly, the Lawyer for the Day program in Boston’s Housing Court – developed in a partnership between the BBA, Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association, Greater Boston Legal Services, WilmerHale Legal Services Center, and the Boston Housing Court – connects attorneys with a demand: litigants who would otherwise appear in court unrepresented can visit the Lawyer for the Day table for advice, mediation, and in some cases assistance at eviction trials. In return, volunteer attorneys learn through direct contact with litigants, work alongside other experienced volunteers – who may be program representatives from large firms – and interact with court staff.
We have written before about the unique set of needs that our nation’s military veterans have and the difficulties they can face in the legal system. Assisting service members who are preparing for or returning from deployment is truly a noble cause. Volunteering at Yellow Ribbon events and working with military personnel directly can preempt any legal issues that could otherwise result in a visit to court.
Getting involved in programs that facilitate introductions to more experienced members of the legal community can present opportunities for growth and mentorship. In addition, it can offer new perspectives on how to navigate the current environment and what options may exist. The BBA is able to provide different forums to learn more about pro bono work and give young lawyers a broader sense of the legal community that might be difficult for them to find on their own. We have held trainings on representing artists and cultural institutions, immigration cases, and pro bono nonprofit clients – to name a few. We encourage new lawyers to explore their options in the legal profession.
To be sure, there are challenges for new lawyers, and while prospects may not always look fruitful, one should not be discouraged. New lawyers need to be creative and constantly pursue their goals, while never forgetting why they chose to enter the profession in the first place. Practicing law means pursuing the calling to protect our Constitution and equal access to justice – and there is always a need for that.