One reason for the excess lawyers, White says, is that when the economy tanked in 2008, many undergraduates decided to defer going into the workforce, opting instead to attend law school. By 2010, the situation had turned grim for lawyers, prompting the school to give some recent graduates a hand while assisting nonprofits and governmental agencies reeling from lack of funding.
White’s plan followed in the tradition of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who created civilian jobs corps, such as the Works Progress Administration, to put the unemployed to work and complete public projects in the process. In 2010, White instituted the Legal Corps — a WPA of sorts for lawyers — that provided a six-month fellowship for UM law students who were unemployed at graduation.
“Legal Corps was in response to the general economy,” White says. “There were people coming out with good legal training, yet organizations serving the underserved and governmental agencies were underserved. This was a great way to match them. We discovered that those six months of post-graduate experience made the people more attractive and they got jobs as a result.”
Although the job market in South Florida is showing signs of improvement for recent law school graduates, White warned that law firms should not be short-sighted when it comes to hiring the newly-minted lawyer.
“You don’t want to have a lost generation,” she says. “The law firms have to think about that. The firms started hiring again — not as the halcyon days.”
UF’s Dean Jerry agrees.
“What’s going on right now,” he says, “is that law firms, the large law firms, many of them are contracting. They are not doing as much hiring of grads immediately out of law school.” As they contract, they flood the job market with more experienced attorneys. Small and medium-sized law firms have scooped many up. Aside from Bilzin Sumberg, some of the other winners are Aventura-based Higer Lichter & Givner, which began as a three-partner firm in 2006 and increased more than fivefold to 16 attorneys; Lydecker Diaz, which expects to hire 13 new attorneys by year’s end for a total of 81; and Kluger Kaplan, which started with 16 attorneys in 2009 and more than doubled that size to 33 this year.
But other firms approach the market differently. “We have not made a single lateral hire,” says Kluger. “I want to groom them from the beginning.”
For Michael J. Higer, co-founder and managing shareholder at Higer Lichter, the economic crunch has made his firm more attractive to attorneys who might go to larger, more prestigious firms in a different market. Instead, several lawyers who were in the top 10 percent of their class courted him.
“These are lawyers who typically would have looked at large downtown firms, and large downtown firms would have looked at them and probably would have hired them,” Higer says. “Due to the economy and other factors, these young lawyers looked at us.” Just as important, he adds, every one of those hires still remains with the firm.
For Richard Lydecker, who partnered with former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, the strategy is to hire attorneys “fresh out of law school or close to it” and those with a personality that meshes with the firm’s “politely aggressive client service mentality.”
The firm’s Website lists 81 attorneys, which is within what Lydecker considers the ideal range of 80 to 120 attorneys. He maintains the size is manageable and yet big enough to provide backup support for lead litigators, explaining, “You’re still small enough to do back flips for your client, but not so large that they get lost.”