At 16, Jamie Lefkowitz knew she wanted to be a lawyer. By age 20, after an internship with the Queens County district attorney’s office in New York, she knew she wanted to be a criminal lawyer – a certainty later confirmed by an eight-month stint during law school in the homicide department of the Los Angeles County DA.
Today, she works for a small Los Angeles civil litigation firm whose specialties include insurance claims defense, reading and writing summaries of medical records and police and accident reports. So what changed?
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Lefkowitz, who earned her J.D. at the University of West Los Angeles School of Law in 2013, realized that in the current job market, her prospects of getting a spot in the DA’s office were slim to none. About half the clerks there were attorneys, "clerking because they couldn’t get jobs," she says. "And the work was very grueling, very intense."
"Everybody at some point is either going to rent or buy a place to live or sign some kind of a contract," says Lefkowitz, now 27. "And I really enjoyed [that] it was very practical."
She made the transition with the help of an internship she found on Craigslist at a firm handling issues such as mortgage fraud and bankruptcy, where she also worked as a law clerk. Lefkowitz considers herself fortunate to be employed full-time, in the law offices of Oliver J. Vasquez, since these days, firms often hire temps or contract attorneys for document review so they can easily contract and expand with demand. She hopes to be able to advance within the firm, taking on her own caseload.
Frank Wu, chancellor and dean of the University of California—Hastings College of the Law, says the economy has created thousands of jobs like the one Lefkowitz is doing – within law firms, at legal services firms and for contract attorneys.
"Law firms and clients have figured out how to repackage the practice of law by breaking it up into parts, because it’s cheaper," he says.
A 2013 survey from the Corporate Counsel, an online publication for in-house counsel, found that 54 percent of corporate law departments have outsourced work, for example. NALP, the National Association for Law Placement, puts the median pay for first-year associates in firms with two to 25 employees at $78,000; a contract attorney might expect $20 to $40 an hour, depending on location.
Corporate law isn’t the only legal field experiencing hiring growth.
Intellectual property law is an area where firms are always hiring associates, says Robert O. Lindefjeld, chair of the American Bar Association’s Section on Intellectual Property Law and general counsel of a nanotechnology firm in Boston. The economy is knowledge-based, and patent litigation is a real moneymaker; large multinational cases can cost $7 million.
If you’re a licensed patent attorney, then you could be hired at some $10,000 to $15,000 more than the $160,000 another first- or second-year associate might be making at a large firm.
Meanwhile, the demand for Islamic finance lawyers who can structure deals that conform to Sharia is growing, thanks to the higher profile of hubs such as Dubai, which aims to become the capital of a global Islamic economy. The intent is that this economy will cut across sectors "from tourism to food to pharmaceuticals," says Hdeel Abdelhady, the vice chair of the ABA Section of International Law’s Middle East Committee.
Health care is another in-demand legal field. Over half of the fastest growing occupations are in health care, so it’s no surprise that health lawyers are in demand, in settings from government agencies to hospitals and law firms. The work covers everything from elder care and embryonic stem cell research to Medicare fraud and implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Robert Denney, who for 25 years has published “what’s hot and what’s not in the legal profession," calls it "red hot."
This story is excerpted from the U.S. News "Best Graduate Schools 2015" guidebook, which features in-depth articles, rankings and data.