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Job market improving for new lawyers

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The job market isn't as bleak as it has been the past couple of years for law school graduates, and that's good news for those who just passed the February bar exam.

Results of the State Bar of California's most recent general bar examination were released Friday evening. (February 2010 California Bar Examination Pass List)

"The economy is improving," said Cara Mitnick, assistant dean of career services for the University of San Diego School of Law. "We see that through the types of jobs our 2009 grads are now moving into and our 2010 grads are starting to get. They were not jobs that were even in the marketplace six to eight months ago.

"We're seeing a gradual -- not a spike -- but a gradual improvement in the legal hiring market."

More than 1,500 people passed the February exam, or 37.1 percent of the applicants who took it.

The three-day general bar examination is given twice a year, in February and July. The exam consists of three sections: a multiple-choice multistate bar examination (MBE), six essay questions and two performance tests that are designed to assess an applicant's ability to apply general legal knowledge to practical tasks. The mean scaled MBE score in California was 1,391 compared with the national average of 1,366.

In addition, the state bar announced that 148 (42.8 percent) of the 346 lawyers who took the attorneys' examination passed.

Mitnick said employers now are starting to hire full-time associates on a lateral basis or new lawyers, rather than hiring for contract attorney positions or temporary jobs.

Those seeking employment, however, still need to keep all their options open.

"Students still have to be persistent," she said. "They have to own their job search, be realistic, pragmatic and cast a wide net."

Frank Mead, assistant dean of career services for Thomas Jefferson School of Law, agreed.

"The job search process is a marathon, not a track meet," he said. "It takes persistence and a focused strategy. Graduates have to have flexibility in their geographical scope and expand it as well as the type of employer. The key is to get that first, solid legal job. It may not be your first choice, but you have to obtain as much experience as you can."

The model of how large law firms hire is changing. Most big law firms used to hire attorneys from their pool of summer associates. Mead said that is no longer the case.

"What we'll probably see in the next recruiting cycle, and this has been true in the past, is self-directed hiring," he said. "Those firms that are still hiring, rather than come to the law schools, students have to go to them. They have to be assertive."

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