HBCU Law Grads Face Tough Job Market

The career scenario painted for Ahman Airitam and his law school classmates could not have been rosier entering Southern Methodist University (SMU) in 2007.

“When we came in, SMU Law pretty much pitched nothing but big law, big firm for life, and that’s what you did afterwards,” recalled Airitam, who graduated in December. “They were very successful, right up until around the time that we started, getting a good majority of their classes into very prestigious law firms here in Dallas, using their contacts.”

Then the economy crashed, and the job market for lawyers shrank, perhaps never to recover and return fully to its former size. Airitam was growing disillusioned as he watched one graduating class after another struggle to find jobs in local firms.

“Now all of a sudden, instead of owning the Dallas law market,” he recalls, SMU graduates were “competing with graduates from the Ivy League schools and some of the Top 15 schools,” so SMU grads were “probably not as well-equipped to compete.”

It remains a tough job market for new lawyers, even experienced ones, especially for African Americans such as Airitam who did not attend top law schools or attain distinctions as editors of law reviews, for example.

Graduates have been turning more to jobs in the federal government, medium-sized or small firms, fledgling solo practices or even non-legal positions in nonprofits and businesses.