This article was originally published in The Barrister, the official monthly publication of the Camden County Bar Association for which DeMichele & DeMichele attorney MATT ROONEY serves as Young Lawyer Trustee.
To put things in perspective, the U.S. economy hasn't been this consistently sluggish since most current young lawyers' grandparents were our age. Getting acclimated to a new profession is tough enough; fighting historically-bad crosswinds while you're doing it just seems cruel! Things have gotten better since the financial crisis but we still have a long way to go. Supply remains a problem, too, exacerbating the flooded, 40,993 active lawyer-strong New Jersey legal job market despite a recent and precipitous drop in law school enrollment. It's no secret that attorneys generally abhor complex mathematics; the equation at work here is pretty simple: a superabundance of lawyers + ( – less jobs) + ( – delayed retirements) = thousands of 20-somethings with their juris doctorates packed away in boxes and Ramen noodles cooking in the microwave of their parents' basement for a few extra years. The underlying numbers read like a horror novel assuming, of course, you just spent tens of thousands of dollars for an upwardly-mobile future. A recent survey found that while 77% of 2007 law school graduates were employed in a job requiring bar admission subsequent to leaving law school; that number fell to 65% by 2011. The median salary for new lawyers – which includes high-range big firm city jobs held by a minority of law students – plummeted from $72,000 in 2009 to $60,000 in 2012. That might be a decent statistic if it were the median income, as opposed to the mean, and the average student was not saddled with hundreds of dollars in monthly loan obligations. Sorry to be such a downer. But here's the good news: there's opportunity in adversity, and a new generation of attorneys are finding no way around getting out from behind their desks and engaging the broader legal community. It's no longer simply a good idea. It's a necessity! Unsurprisingly, I'm a big believer that bar membership is more important now than ever. Billable hours will always be superiorly important to partners for equally obvious reasons. However, in 2014, cleaning and cooking the fish is not enough at most small and medium firms. You need to learn how to fish yourself to thrive. Even larger firms see little value in keeping associates around for long when the going gets tough unless they can build their own book of business or, at the very least, add value to the firm by engaging the community and acting as a positive, living and breathing asset for the firm's brand. There's no better way to make that happen than getting active with the bar association the opportunities afforded members. Personal happiness isn't unimportant either! It's a jungle out there. Developing a network of young professional friends who can help you make the most of your “busy years” is definitely worth the effort. The Camden County Bar Association's Young Lawyer Committee is doing its open up these opportunities to as many new South Jersey attorneys as possible. We successfully signed up approximately 250 new members in August 2014 alone. Many of our new recruits joined us for our charity Lobster Bake at the Tap Room in Haddon Township on September 27th, an annual event responsible for raising thousands of dollars for the Larc School in Bellmawr, a school for severe and moderately disabled children. We've also scheduled a series of happy hours, lunch meetings, brewery tours, wine tastings, legal seminars, charity holiday parties and other solid events (including a second annual chili cook-off) in the coming months. Each event, as I explained above, serves dual purposes: to engage the community and to serve the individual attorney by incorporating him or her into the community and, in so doing, strengthening it. Now THAT is a winning equation! And it's never too late to get in on the fun. Interested in learning more about the Young Lawyers Committee? Shoot me an email at [email protected], find us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/camdencountyyounglawyers) and follow us on Twitter via our handle @CCYoungLawyers. Remember: your career is nothing more – and nothing less – than what you make of it! So make it a good one. We're here to help.