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HBCU law grads face tough job market

Kenneth J. Cooper | 4/4/2012, 7:44 a.m.

Howard has an edge in being located in the nation’s capital, which has a large law market and is also the seat of the federal government. Conti said 86 percent of Howard’s 133 graduates in 2010 have found jobs, with only nine looking for work. The largest number was working in law firms, followed by government and judicial clerkships.

SMU Law School is 50th on the U.S. News rankings. Even with graduates of top schools flooding the Dallas market, Airitam has landed a well-paying job. It’s just not in the law or in the city.

Next month, Airitam starts working for Microsoft as a licensing sales specialist in Minneapolis, drafting sales agreements with airlines, retailers and other large businesses. After applying for the job on a whim, he stood out because he was finishing both a J.D. and an M.B.A., and had six years of similar experience with American Airlines.

Airitam, who harbors an interest in becoming an entrepreneur, has not given up on practicing law. He takes the Minnesota bar exam next February after he starts at Microsoft and added, “I’m not going to be an attorney for them, [at least not] immediately, anyway.”

Last spring, Julian Hall graduated with honors from North Carolina Central Law and landed a job with a brand-name local firm in Durham as he was studying for the bar exam, which he passed. But the position researching and preparing personal injury cases for trial lasted only a few months.

“They lost some big cases. Downsizing, you know, last to come, first to go. I got let go from there,” he recalls.

Hall rebounded when a mentor he met as a teen brought the fresh graduate into his local firm, Henson and Fuerst, where Hall has handled personal injury and criminal cases since October. He knows other black 2011 graduates of Central and the University of North Carolina who have had to take work far outside the legal profession.

“I got a friend who works waiting tables,” Hall said. “Another friend of mine that went to Carolina, she’s working at the makeup counter — passed the bar and everything, doing makeup. I got another friend that is a bartender. So it’s bad out here.”

The experience of Aba Acquaah falls on the other end of the range of job-search results for black law graduates. A member of Howard’s Class of 2011, she has a judicial clerkship with a federal district court judge, James Spencer, in Richmond.

“Luckily, I was able to get the clerkship the fall before graduation,” said Acquaah, who is of Ghanian descent. “I will just say I tried to be as proactive as possible during school to look for jobs.”

Having a mentor helped. He recommended she apply for a clerkship, through the same program he had used to find one. “I’m learning so much more than I could have in any other position as a recent graduate, so I really love it,” Acquaah said.

Her one-year clerkship ends in September. Her next step, one in another direction, is pretty much lined up — joining a major corporate law firm in New York.