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Experts have mixed feelings about job market for recent law school grads

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The job market remains challenging for recent law school graduates and industry experts are split over whether it is improving in the San Diego area.

One person who says the market is headed in a positive direction is Julie Caron Remer, an assistant dean of the office of Career and Professional Development at the University of San Diego School of Law.

She says more USD Law graduates are finding full-time, long-term jobs that require bar passage or for which having a J.D. provided an advantage.

About 53 percent of 2012 USD Law graduates secured full-time, permanent positions nine months after graduation that required bar passage or gave a J.D. advantage.

That figure rose to 60 percent for 2013 graduates.

“Hiring is definitely picking up and the quality of the jobs graduates are getting is improving,” said Remer, adding that she has seen steady improvements in hiring since joining USD in 2011. “The jobs the students are getting are also the type of jobs they really are looking for, which is encouraging.”

One reason for the increase in USD law graduates finding full-time jobs, Remer said, is that large law firms are starting to do more hiring.

The school saw a 32 percent increase in the number of graduates securing full-time jobs at firms with more than 100 employees between the 2012 and 2013 classes.

The trend, which mirrors what has gone on nationally, has continued with the class of USD law graduates from earlier this year, Remer said.

Intellectual property law remains an area of high demand, and Remer expects the health law sector will grow as the federal Affordable Care Act continues to be rolled out.

Less optimistic about the state of the job market is Niels Schaumann, dean of the California Western School of Law.

He said he hasn’t seen any real improvements in legal hiring in the most recent years and does not expect things to change in the near future.

“The difficult market we have had for the last few years is likely to continue this year,” Schaumann said.

The dean said outsourcing and electronic discovery -- which became more common in the legal industry at the same time the economy suffered and hit the legal industry hard -- have reduced the demand for attorneys nationwide.

Schaumann said he does not expect the job picture to improve significantly until more years of reduced enrollment in law schools will result in a larger percentage of graduate securing full-time positions when they graduate.

“Right now it takes an extraordinary amount of persistence, and way more than before, to get legal work,” he said.

Larry Watanabe, a partner at the search firm Watanabe Nason, said he thinks the general state of the legal market in San Diego is stagnant.

He attributes that to a number of Am Law firms leaving San Diego in recent years because there has not been the necessary growth in the life sciences and technology sectors to sustain a presence in the market.

“I do not expect many major law firm entrants into the San Diego market in the near term,” Watanabe wrote in an email.

But Watanabe said there still have been lateral partner moves.

San Diego-based Sheppard Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP made the greatest lateral gains, he said, by picking up two large groups from McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP. The moves brokered by Watanabe brought more than 20 attorneys to Sheppard Mullin.

There are also those who think the legal market in San Diego will pick up as the economy gains more steam.

Among them is Richard Huver, the president of the San Diego County Bar Association. He says the market is not as bad as it was in the depths of the recession just a few years ago.

As for those young lawyers who are working, Huver said more and more of them are starting out as solo practitioners or at small firms.

“A growing number of attorneys right out of law school are hanging out their own shingle,” said Huver, of Huver Law Firm. “That is a change from when most people used to head to a firm to be trained and get experience and mentoring.”

In response to the trend, the county bar association has changed its programming for newer lawyers to provide a greater focus on building and marketing their work, as opposed to sessions more tailored to specific practice areas, Huver said.

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