Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Legal Talent Geography

For soon-to-be graduates, the job market looks bleak. One strategy is to expand the geography of your search. Students in law school are now combing the forgotten parts of America:

But students who miss the brief window of opportunity to land an offer this fall may struggle to break into firms once next year’s class rises. When Julia Figurelli, a second-year student at the University of Pennsylvania, decided to enter law school a year ago, she expected to find a lucrative law firm job in three years — if not collecting the $160,000-a-year associate salaries at one of the uppermost partnerships. By the time she obtains her J.D., she says, she will have around $200,000 in debt.

“Had I seen where the market was going, I would’ve gone to a lower-ranked but less expensive public school,” she said. “I’m questioning whether law school was the right choice at all.”

Once aiming to work in Philadelphia, Ms. Figurelli is now hunting for jobs in lower-paying markets, like Pittsburgh and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “I’m looking anywhere my competition isn’t looking,” she added.

Pittsburgh is off of the talent map for two reasons. One concerns depressed wages likely due to the glut of locally produced graduates. The other is the legacy of the Rust Belt, which has frozen Pittsburgh in the 1970s. At least, that's how the rest of the world sees Southwestern Pennsylvania.

How does Pittsburgh get back on the map? The Great Recession is just what the doctor ordered. Desperate times call for desperate migrations. Ms. Figurelli represents a pioneer movement that will open up new markets out of necessity.

Audrey Russo, CEO of the Pittsburgh Technology Council, describes the second wave of Rust Belt in-migration:

Pittsburgh is also a place where more and more people want to return. Not a day goes by that I don’t hear from someone who wants to return to raise their kids, to retire or to start a company here. To live in Pittsburgh and SWPA means that you have made a choice to be part of the next era of firsts. We are not just another Silicon Valley. We are southwestern Pennsylvania, a region that will be the hotbed of slow, continuous and steady improvements in the next 25 years. Our sustainable approach to the newest economy will serve as the bellwether by which other regions rebuild their economies and communities.

But just as recent college graduates from institutions outside of the region will have to figure out how to crack that dense social network in Pittsburgh, expatriates will have to concoct creative schemes that will underwrite a successful boomerang migration. I expect both of these relocation demographics to inform an innovation boom in Pittsburgh. To thrive in New York City takes guile that only the most motivated are willing and able to employ. This has been the missing ingredient to the Pittsburgh Renaissance. That's all about to change.


Anonymous said...

For Ms. Figurelli and other recent graduates, law school or otherwise, I'd recommend spending some time on the Quarterly Workforce Indicators website at the U.S. Census Bureau: If you don't mind mining some data (and the 3Q lag), you can get some really good information on hiring trends by industry, age and experience, wages, and more to complement the more traditional avenues for a job search.

Jim Russell said...


Very useful resource. Thanks for sharing.

I also want to say thanks for making mention of my blog on your blog. The International Economic Development Council picked up on it and that led to some interest from the Detroit Regional Chamber.