Careers

Young Lawyers in 'Lost Generation' Seek a Foothold in the Legal Marketplace


Bridget Budbill didn’t expect to be $150,000 in debt and working a temporary job as a newly minted law graduate from the University of Oregon. But she is.

Her fundraising job for the Oregon Democratic Caucus concludes in November, at the same time the 28-year-old is supposed to start making payments on her student loan debt. What will happen then she doesn’t yet know. And she’s got lots of company among what a law professor calls the “lost generation” of young law school graduates, reports the Oregonian in a lengthy article that gives a panorama of the local legal economy.

Joe, a 2011 law graduate of Willamette University owes over $130,000 and is working as a golf course landscaper. That allows him to work on his Spanish, too, since most of the crew is comprised of native speakers.

Michael Owens thought he had it made when he landed a summer job in 2009 at Stoel Rives, one of Portland’s biggest and most prestigious corporate law firms. But the firm didn’t hire any of its summer associates that year, due to the disastrous legal economy. He and three Williamette classmates formed their own firm and went into practice together after they graduated.

The law firms that once would have readily hired the newly minted juris doctors completing law school in Oregon and elsewhere in the country are tightening their belts. Corporate clients have emphasized cost-cutting and alternative legal billing arrangements in recent years, and even major firms feel they have no choice but to follow the new program.

“It’s a tough business out there right now,” says E. Walter “Wally” Van Valkenburg, the managing partner of the firm’s Portland office, explaining that the Internet, automation and individuals willing to work for less in other countries make it difficult for U.S. law firms to compete if they don’t find a way to keep costs down.

“We have a client that is pushing us to go offshore,” said Van Valkenburg. “Their attitude is, you need to figure this out or we’ll go find people who can.”

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