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Law school graduates face tough job market
BARSTOW • Sherman Curi considers himself lucky to have his “dream job” as a deputy district attorney for the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office in Barstow.
He’s been prosecuting misdemeanor cases for Barstow since he was hired in March. He was among 11 attorneys hired out of 333 applicants for the DA’s Office. His odds were about one in 30.
“It makes you appreciate the job that much more,” Curi said. “It tells you, ‘Hey, I have to try that much harder.’”
But it took more than luck for Curi to land one of the coveted positions. After graduating from a tier-1 law school in 2011 and passing the state bar exam, Curi worked seven months as an intern for the Victorville DA’s office — without pay.
“It was tough,” he said. “It definitely hurts your pocketbook.”
According to data released last month by the American Bar Association, only 55 percent of 2011 law school graduates landed full-time, long-term jobs requiring passage of the state bar within nine months of graduation. Only about two-thirds of graduates landed any type of job requiring their law degree, according to the National Association of Law Placement, while just 85.6 percent landed any job at all — the lowest employment rate since 1994.
“The number of entry level associate positions at large law firms has declined over the past several years,” said August Farnsworth, assistant dean of career services and professional development at the University of La Verne College of Law. “Additionally large law firms have corporate clients that are demanding more for less and from more experienced attorneys.”
Moreover, government agencies such as the district attorney and public defender’s offices instituted hiring freezes due to budget problems.
“One misconception is that all attorneys are guaranteed a job immediately after graduating from law school starting at a salary of $160,000 a year,” Farnsworth said. “The fact is that attorneys can make a good living doing important work for society.”
To make ends meet while searching for a job, Curi eventually cut his internship hours back so he could work for M&M Engineering. They saved his life, he said.
“It’s very humbling,” Curi said. “I was an attorney working at a machine shop.”
Also, a lawyer’s pay isn’t always what you’d think, according to Curi and Barstow Attorney Bob Conaway — especially in the High Desert.
The starting salary for a San Bernardino County deputy district attorney is about $60,000.
But even experienced attorneys say the pay is not quite what it used to be.
An attorney for 25 years, Conaway runs a small law firm in Barstow, managing work ranging from criminal defense to administrative law. He drives a Toyota Yaris and makes less than six figures a year.
He views his job as a calling. He guesses a third of his practice is pro-bono.
“It’s a glamorous job. It’s just not lucrative anymore,” Conaway said.
Before he started his firm in Barstow 10 years ago, Conaway did litigation management for a large insurance company where he made “a lot more money” working for the “evil empire.”
“The money I could spend on a luxury car, I instead spend on overhead to keep the doors open,” Conaway said. “It’s just a mindset and a different discipline. Being a lawyer is a higher calling than just being a receivable machine.”