Angie Robertson graduated from Loyola University Chicago School of Law in 2010. She has experience with public interest law, family law, legal document review and sales. When she is not reading or writing about law, she enjoys live music, exploring Chicago, watching roller-derby, and spending time with her husband and her dog.
Last month, I re-experienced rite-of-passage stress through my friends who were taking the bar exam. My bar exam wounds were fresh, having taken it just one year ago. My four years of working full-time (or two part-time jobs) while studying law in the evening, participating in moot court, writing for a student publication, volunteering, being a public interest intern and working in my law school’s clinic were grueling. Just prior to my 3L year, I applied for and was awarded a two-year nonprofit fellowship which was to start after the bar exam. My goal of having long-term public interest work motivated me to study 10 to 12 hours a day for the bar exam. I was nervous about the bar exam, but focused on the prize: a career I was passionate about.
I appreciated the new reality for legal hiring and that public interest legal work was even more difficult if not nearly impossible to come by for recent graduates. The opportunity I had earned was extremely rare and somewhat unconventional. Surprisingly, a matter of weeks after the bar exam results were released, my fellowship program was cancelled due to changes at my host organization that were outside of my control. The proposal I wrote became impossible to execute. Meetings were held, conference calls were made, but there was nothing else to be done. I was suddenly unemployed, after being under the impression for the previous 10 months that I was secure in a terrific start to my public interest career.
I became another statistic of unemployed law graduates, people who could only find temporary, part-time, clerking, or nonlegal work. I have applied to hundreds of positions since then, legal and nonlegal, nonprofit and for-profit. I go to networking events, I continue to volunteer. I was lucky to get document review temporary work in January and I have been doing that fairly consistently ever since. It is not mindless work. Each assignment requires mastery of a new, complex knowledge base. It can be mentally draining because it is repetitive, but demands constant attention to detail. Moreover, doing document review during the day can make it difficult to find motivation to work on cover letters, writing samples, applications, etc. on weekends.
Coping with temporary employment has been challenging in a way I was not prepared for. Some recent graduates have responded in anger, suing their law schools and writing angry exposés about law school career centers. While the methodology for reporting law school employment data is not innocent, anger and disappointment will not pay the interest on student loans, nor will they create meaningful work. I remain upbeat about my future by using the present as an opportunity to develop my other skills. I began taking Spanish lessons this winter with the goal of becoming fluent. When I can, I continue to volunteer for pro bono projects. I recently quit my habit of collecting news articles about downward trends in legal hiring and posting them on Facebook and Twitter, in hopes that my nonlegal friends and family might better understand what I’m going through. At the end of the day, I am just a person with a professional degree who has worked very hard to get the job I want, but it is taking more time in this economy than I anticipated. Many things make me and my life unique. This, however, is not one of them.