Young lawyers in Jackson: More supply than demand

By Tom Gantert

Legal News

When Eric Kyser graduated from the University of Toledo law school four years ago, he said he needed to make money right away.

So the Jackson attorney went to work for himself. He said it was tough, but soon got court-appointed work, landed some municipal contracts, and was able to make it.

But Kyser, 29, looks around and doesn't see many young attorneys in Jackson.

"There seems to be a void," Kyser said. "A lot of younger attorneys don't work in town."

The State Bar of Michigan's most recent statewide survey didn't paint a rosy employment picture for hiring. According to the 2010 State Bar of Michigan survey, 73.1 percent of the private practitioners surveyed said they were "unlikely" to hire a new associate over the next year while 5.9 percent said they were "likely" to hire.

Chad Perrine of Marcoux, Allen, Schomer, Bower, Nichols & Kendall, P.C. law firm in Jackson was hired in April of 2011.

Perrine, 33, graduated from Cooley Law School in 2007 and then worked for his father-in-law in Brooklyn. When his father-in-law retired last year, Perrine was looking for a job.

"Jobs were hard to come by," Perrine said.

New attorneys' best chance of getting a job was to look at Jackson's bigger employers - Consumers Energy or Allegiance Hospital, he said.

"Otherwise I don't know of anyone else that was hiring. I really don't know of anyone that is hiring even now," he said. "Your best bet is to just hang a shingle and work hard. It's tough."

Many local attorneys agree that the job market for young attorneys in Jackson County is very limited.

Last November, the Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney's office hired an attorney. The position paid about $40,000 a year, according to local attorneys. Margaret Teske, chief of administrative services, said more than 60 people applied for the job.

Brendon Beer of Abbott, Thomson & Beer law firm in Jackson said he has received about a dozen applications for jobs in the last 18 months, although his firm was not hiring.

Beer said his firm does plan to hire an associate within the next six months, and has already decided on the attorney.

"We have a need," Beer said. "We have a work load that merits an associate. ... I'm not aware of any firms in Jackson County that hired an associate attorney in the last year."

Jennifer Kelly of the Kelly, Kelly & Kelly law firm in Jackson said she has heard that business is picking up in the county, but not to the level where there was a need to hire another associate.

"At least in our case, our firm is so small, we have just enough work to keep a couple of attorneys busy," Kelly said.

Brad Brelinski of Curtis & Curtis law firm in Jackson said he didn't know of any Jackson law firms that were hiring.

"There are more lawyers coming out of law school and passing the bar exam than there are jobs," Brelinski said.

Brelinski pointed to Cooley Law School, which advertises itself as the largest law school in the country with about 15,000 alumni.

"Having the largest law school right in your back yard doesn't help," he said. "There is more supply than there is demand. New attorneys have to hang out their own shingle. I've seen that more and more in the last few years. That is getting more and more common."

But going out on your own is not easy for a young lawyer, said Susan Dehncke of the Brandt & Dehncke law firm in Jackson.

"It would be very difficult to hang out your shingle and start from scratch," Dehncke said. "Most of the calls we get are from people who were referred from other people. If you don't have that established reputation and connections in the community, it is difficult to get established."

It's best for starting attorneys to look at bigger cities or look for internships or clerking positions with judges to get experience, Dehncke said.

Published: Mon, Apr 2, 2012

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