It's a great time to be a lawyer--or at least to look for a job in the legal profession. Experts are calling this an associate's job market. According to The National Law Journal, the number of associates--otherwise known as fledgling attorneys--in the country's 250 largest law firms has increased 76% over the last decade. During the same period, the number of law school graduates has gone up just 7%. Law firms are responding to that crunch by reaching out to a wider array of law schools and fighting fiercely for graduates of top-tier schools. Hit the books, get good grades and you're guaranteed to be one of those in-demand grads.
Susanne Peticolas, a graduate of Metuchen High School, was in a very similar position when she graduated from Rutgers University School of Law in Newark. She dominated her class, serving as managing editor of the Rutgers Law Review, rising to No. 2 and graduating Magna Cum Laude, which is a Latin phrase that indicates the high level of distinction with which an academic degree is earned. Suffice it to say that Susanne was an awesome law school student.
And, as it turns out, an excellent lawyer. Since graduating from Rutgers in 1980 and completing a prestigious two-year clerkship with a federal judge, Susanne has spent the past 25 years honing her skills as an attorney with Gibbons, P.C. in Newark. When she started as an associate in 1982, Gibbons had 37 attorneys. Today Susanne is director of the Real Property and Environmental department for Gibbons, which now has four offices and more than 200 attorneys practicing in all areas of law.
"Most of my time is spent in environmental litigation," explains Susanne, who typically represents corporate clients. "Communication and problem-solving are the skills I use all the time. Lawyers have to be good written and verbal communicators. You need to be able to persuade judges and regulators--you need to be able to persuade the other side that your position is reasonable. And when it comes to problem-solving, it's very helpful to be able to step outside of your own perspective and see the other side. It's by seeing where there are commonalities that you can work toward some kind of resolution. It's not all about winning."
"Integrity," adds Susanne, "also helps ease courtroom tension. Your word today is very valuable," she points out. "People have to be able to rely on what you say. I've been in a lot of litigations where the positions are separated. If you treat everyone with courtesy and compassion while at the same time protecting your client, it makes everything a lot easier and less stressful."
The good news is that lawyers come in all shapes and sizes. People can choose to pursue an area of law that best suits their strengths. For instance, intellectual property rights is currently a hot area of law. Patents for inventions and pharmaceuticals, or a computer program are examples of intellectual property. "If you have an engineering or chemistry background, an organized personality with a lot of structure, intellectual property law might be a good match for you," notes Susanne. "If you're more outgoing and flamboyant and more like an actor, then trial work could be an interesting choice. If you like to solve really individual people problems, then family law might be your pursuit. It depends on what you're interested in."
Whatever the case, says Susanne, legal work is a challenging and fulfilling career.