What kinds of obstacles are graduates mainly going to face?
Of course number one is the job market. If you are interested in practicing family law or criminal law your options are very limited.
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The DA and PD are not hiring and so for criminal law your only option is to go into criminal defense. The problem is that 95% of criminal defense lawyers practice on their own or with one other lawyer and have not hired a new lawyer for years or maybe ever. Our law firm is one of the few large criminal defense law firms in California and we receive 20-30 resumes a month from "entry level" lawyers who have a true passion for criminal defense. We have been able to hire a few new lawyers, but they begin as assistants to our experienced felony attorneys and they learn the ropes in that manner. We have not had a lawyer leave WK in many years, in part because of the job market and because our lawyers know we are a stable firm that provides benefits.
In family law, again there are very few law firms with more than a few lawyers. I have been checking in the Daily Journal over past several months and there has not been one ad in LA, Orange County, Riverside or San Bernardino for a family law lawyer.
Then there are the "fiscal obstacles". Unless you graduated in the top 10% of your class at UCLA or USC you are not going to like entry level salaries in a small to mid-size law firm. Entry level salaries range from 45k to 65k. Few law firms offer benefits. If a new lawyer in California wants to get a job in most areas of law they need to lower their financial target. They would be wise to do so in order to gain critical experience that they will need to learn the legal game.
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What is the single most important piece of advice you would give a new graduate that would put them on the path to success?
To understand that just because they were fortunate enough to pass the bar does not mean they know anything about being a lawyer. My advice would be to understand that you need to enter the legal field "hungry for knowledge" and understand that it is not important (no matter how much you owe in student loans) what your salary is as a new lawyer. You need to find a law firm where you feel that you can learn a tremendous amount and do all you can to find a "mentor" in that law firm who will teach you the ropes and will be there for you when you have an issue or a question about the law or life. Stay with that law firm for at least 2-3 years until you can say to yourself that you now understand what it is to meet with and retain a client, to handle a case honestly and ethically and to learn that you have to put in the long hours to learn the law and how to win a case in court. You will have the rest of your life to earn a lot of money. However, that will not happen until you acquire the skills necessary in order to do so. You definitely do not get ANY of these basic skills in law school.
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