Living the law: For lawyers, business has remained steady throughout the economic downturn

Monday, March 21, 2011

No area of the economy is recession proof, but law may be faring better than other markets, say locals working in the field. A recent Northwestern Law study reported 15,000 lawyer and legal-staff jobs have been lost since 2008, but prelaw professor Dr. Hamner Hill says that, when looking at the overall economy, that's a "minuscule" figure.

"There's a constant need, as a whole, for different kinds of lawyers. There's a lot of turnover, and it's rough, hard work," says Hill, chair of the department of political science, philosophy and religion at Southeast Missouri State University. Cape Girardeau is different from Wall Street in a lot of ways, but when it comes to law -- especially family, real estate, criminal and personal injury law -- "it's the same everywhere you go," says Hill. "Someone else's problems become your opportunity." For lawyers handling recessionary bankruptcy cases, for example, "life is good," says Hill.

The recession might mean that new lawyers have to wait a bit longer to get that six-figure salary -- but for those willing to start at the bottom and work their way up, the career opportunities are lucrative. The recession hasn't deterred students from pursuing expensive law degrees, either, says Hill.

"School has always been a good place to ride out the recession," he says. Law students aren't worried about the economy now -- they're worried about the economy three years from now, when they'll be ready for the job market. "Three years from now is murky, but it looks better," says Hill. He's already seeing growth in financial and environmental regulation, and believes these areas will continue to expand in the future.

Cape Girardeau lawyer Tom O'Loughlin says the recession has probably made it tougher for new lawyers to enter the job market, but it hasn't lessened their interest in the field.

"There are still a lot of young lawyers coming out, and a lot of young lawyers here in Cape," says O'Loughlin, who's been practicing for 36 years. "For the most part, it's a better-than-average occupation as far as earnings go."

O'Loughlin's daughter, Erica Koetting, has been out of law school for eight years and now works at the family law firm. Through her experience, O'Loughlin has learned what's changed since he graduated from law school in the 1970s.

"I think it's tougher, harder and more financially risky for a young lawyer who starts out on their own today. Like everything else, it costs more to get into it," he says. "Young lawyers who are able to work with older lawyers -- even if they don't stay -- will benefit from the experience and knowledge of those older guys. If they get in on their own and go through the 'school of hard knocks,' they might not get in as quickly as they should."

Regardless of the economic situation, O'Loughlin says the field of law will remain secure but evolve much.

"I think it's a worthwhile profession and people will continue to be active and continue to be attracted to it," he says. "I daresay in another 36 years, the changes will probably be greater than the ones I've seen." No area of the economy is recession proof, but law may be faring better than other markets, say locals working in the field. A recent Northwestern Law study reported 15,000 lawyer and legal-staff jobs have been lost since 2008, but prelaw professor Dr. Hamner Hill says that, when looking at the overall economy, that's a "minuscule" figure.

"There's a constant need, as a whole, for different kinds of lawyers. There's a lot of turnover, and it's rough, hard work," says Hill, chair of the department of political science, philosophy and religion at Southeast Missouri State University. Cape Girardeau is different from Wall Street in a lot of ways, but when it comes to law -- especially family, real estate, criminal and personal injury law -- "it's the same everywhere you go," says Hill. "Someone else's problems become your opportunity." For lawyers handling recessionary bankruptcy cases, for example, "life is good," says Hill.

The recession might mean that new lawyers have to wait a bit longer to get that six-figure salary -- but for those willing to start at the bottom and work their way up, the career opportunities are lucrative. The recession hasn't deterred students from pursuing expensive law degrees, either, says Hill.

"School has always been a good place to ride out the recession," he says. Law students aren't worried about the economy now -- they're worried about the economy three years from now, when they'll be ready for the job market. "Three years from now is murky, but it looks better," says Hill. He's already seeing growth in financial and environmental regulation, and believes these areas will continue to expand in the future.

Cape Girardeau lawyer Tom O'Loughlin says the recession has probably made it tougher for new lawyers to enter the job market, but it hasn't lessened their interest in the field.

"There are still a lot of young lawyers coming out, and a lot of young lawyers here in Cape," says O'Loughlin, who's been practicing for 36 years. "For the most part, it's a better-than-average occupation as far as earnings go."

O'Loughlin's daughter, Erica Koetting, has been out of law school for eight years and now works at the family law firm. Through her experience, O'Loughlin has learned what's changed since he graduated from law school in the 1970s.

"I think it's tougher, harder and more financially risky for a young lawyer who starts out on their own today. Like everything else, it costs more to get into it," he says. "Young lawyers who are able to work with older lawyers -- even if they don't stay -- will benefit from the experience and knowledge of those older guys. If they get in on their own and go through the 'school of hard knocks,' they might not get in as quickly as they should."

Regardless of the economic situation, O'Loughlin says the field of law will remain secure but evolve much.

"I think it's a worthwhile profession and people will continue to be active and continue to be attracted to it," he says. "I daresay in another 36 years, the changes will probably be greater than the ones I've seen."

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