Attorney Kara Westercamp, who graduated from the University of Iowa College of Law in 2009, said there’s no guarantee in the law job market.
“Do the math, and ask yourself if you want to be a lawyer,” said Westercamp, 31, of formerly of Cedar Rapids.
Westercamp, now an associate with Jones Day law firm in New York, said she was fortunate to end up in her dream job at a “world-class” firm. She had minimal loan debt and believes she was smart about getting an MBA, along with her law degree, which likely helped her position in the job market.
Kwesi Atta-Krah, 32, of Urbandale, said starting UI law school this year may be a risk, but he considered it for many years after watching his wife graduate from Drake Law School and is now working as a lawyer. He also got advice from family members, who are lawyers, and other lawyers about the profession.
Westercamp, Atta-Krah and other UI law graduates were concerned about the small incoming class size of 94 this fall. But they were relieved to see the standards were not lowered just to increase numbers and tuition.
Atta-Krah, who came to America in 2000 from Ghana, said his situation may be better, or at least different, from other first-year law students because he received his bachelor’s from UI and had worked for the past nine years as an auditor at Wells Fargo in West Des Moines before starting school again this fall.
“I’ve been able to work and save some money, so I feel fortunate to not have the debt when I finish,” he said.
“I think it’s also important to think about how each school is different and where you want to practice. Iowa (law school) is a great opportunity. I think I will be able to find a job where I want to practice — in Des Moines.“
Westercamp emphasized how important work experience is while in law school. She was a teaching assistant and had a summer position with Jones Day in 2008.
She then clerked for U.S. District Judge John Jarvey for two years before joining Jones Day full-time in 2011.
“I guess I was insulated from what was going on because I clerked for two years, but the job crunch was starting to hit in 2009,” Westercamp said. “I already had the job offer from Jones Day, but there were others who were offered jobs and then the law firms rescinded the offer.”
She took advantage of the job fairs on campus, but she also put in the time and work to find her dream job in New York. Westercamp said the experience she had with Judge Jarvey was invaluable and helped her prepare for her associate position.
Justin Grad, 31, an associate with Latham and Watkins in Costa Mesa, Calif., and a 2009 UI graduate, said he also had friends who had offers rescinded when the fallout hit the job market.
“The dynamics of the industry have changed, but I think there will always be a need for talented attorneys,” Grad said. “Of course, debt load has to be a consideration. I had some substantial loans.”
Tony Eves, 32, a 2012 graduate, didn’t end up as a lawyer, but his law degree helped him get into a career about which he’s passionate — he’s in a management training program with Kaiser Permanente, a not-for-profit integrated health plan company in San Diego, Calif.
“I always wanted to be a lawyer … . My dad is a judge (in Utah), but when the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010 that became my passion,” he recalled.
“I became interested in health care policy, and this was chance to be on the ground floor. It came down to, did I want to be litigating or on the front line of health care decisions?”
Eves said a law degree — even if someone doesn’t end up practicing law — can open many doors and lead to other careers.
Atta-Krah said that’s why he didn’t hesitate about law school.
“I came here to learn and get an education,” Atta-Krah said. “The law is a complex area, where you learn a variety of things that could be the basis for so many things, but I would feel fortunate to be part of profession where these people (lawyers) want to help others.
“I would feel privileged to be part of that.”