American Lawyer, Lost and Found: The Long Road Back for Lawyers Waylaid by the Recession:
[T]housands of law school graduates from the years during and immediately after the recession, roughly 2008 through 2013 [struggled to find legal jobs]. The percentage of grads who found work as lawyers right out of school in that period tumbled to the lowest levels in decades, causing many to question the value of a legal education. That, in turn, caused law school enrollment to drop and forced schools to be more transparent about their employment outcomes.
Years later, the effects are still being felt by those who graduated during the recession. The displacement of top graduates had a domino effect, as everyone downshifted to whatever work they could find, including solo practice, long-term contract review and foreclosure processing. Lawyers from less-selective law schools and those with the most debt were even worse off, forced to take low-level employment and sometimes to abandon the law altogether. For all the young lawyers who were affected by the crisis, success became a matter of perseverance, flexibility and, to some extent, luck. ...
Economists generally define the recession as having lasted from December 2007 through June 2009, when the national unemployment rate rose from 5% to 9.5%. Unemployment peaked at 10% in October 2009.
The legal industry slump lasted much longer. According to U.S. Department of Labor data, legal services employment fell from a high of 1.18 million in July 2007 to 1.11 million in 2010, a drop of 70,000 jobs, or nearly 6% of the legal workforce. Despite the overall economic rebound, legal employment still hasn’t returned to prerecession levels.
Data from the National Association for Law Placement shows that law school graduate placement bottomed out in 2013, several years after the national recession had technically ended. The class of 2007 enjoyed a 91.9% employment rate (a 20-year high) and 76.9% of graduates got a job requiring bar passage. But the class of 2011 endured the worst legal job market since 1994, with 85.6% employment and just 65.4% of the class landing a job requiring bar passage. (By 2013, the employment rate among recent grads had slid to 84.5%.)
In fact, 2011 was the year that NALP and the American Bar Association coined the term “JD Advantage” to describe jobs in which bar passage is useful but not required. Less than half of the 2011 class (49.5%) got a job in private practice that year. That rate had hovered between 55% and 64% over the previous 25 years.
The hiring situation didn’t really begin to improve until 2014. Even then, the rebounding rate of graduates getting law jobs was partly the result of smaller law school graduating classes between 2013 and 2016. ...
Emily Bianchi, an associate professor of organization and management at Emory University Goizueta Business School, studies how economic conditions in early adulthood influence later job attitudes and behavior. In a Harvard Business Review article last fall, she cited her own and others’ research that found well-educated people who graduated from college during recessions on the whole earned less money and tended to work for smaller, less prestigious and lower-paying firms even decades later. But they were more satisfied than those who graduated in better times, and appeared to be less narcissistic as a group.
Indeed, most of the lawyers interviewed for this article felt that they gained something from overcoming difficulties early in their careers.