The District seems like the promised land for wannabe lawyers.

With an unparalleled slate of jobs in the city, a law degree used to be a golden ticket to a six-figure salary and ample job security in the nation's corridor of political power.

No more.

Despite living in arguably the best market for lawyers -- in an area where the federal government insulates workers from widespread economic calamity -- many these days are wrestling with unfulfilled


"For many years, people were able to go to law school and feel reasonably confident they were going to get a job when they left," said Matthew Fraidin, co-director of the District's HIV/AIDS Legal Clinic. "Now more and more have to make employment choices they aren't comfortable with."

Before the start of the new school year, that frustration reached a fever pitch when law school graduates unable to find work filed a class-action suit against their schools. The students accused the Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Michigan and New York Law School of "ongoing fraud that is ubiquitous in the legal education industry and threatens to leave a generation of law students in dire financial straits" -- they wanted their tuition money back.

Here in the District, the situation is not as dire, but many are settling for jobs that fall short of the glamorous gigs they envisioned while piling up thousands of dollars in student loans.

"You're so much more expendable here," said lawyer Michelle Thomas, who has practiced in the District for six years. "It's much harder to maintain that job with a big firm because there's a whole arena of contract lawyers."

Instead, more area residents with law degrees are taking part-time jobs, positions reviewing documents or leaving the industry altogether, she said. - Brian Hughes