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New graduate will work … for now

Beth Odian, a recent graduate of Marquette Law School, stands outside the Milwaukee campus building. Odian landed a clerk position with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. (WLJ photo by Kevin Harnack)

Beth Odian, a recent graduate of Marquette Law School, stands outside the Milwaukee campus building. Odian landed a clerk position with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. (WLJ photo by Kevin Harnack)

When Beth Odian takes her oath as an attorney today, she does so knowing she has a job.

The new Marquette Law School graduate wasn’t alone in her job security, but neither was it guaranteed, considering that about half of her 173 classmates sworn in at the state Capitol started their legal careers unemployed.

But despite landing a clerk position with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District Court in Milwaukee, Odian, 28, could be back among the unemployed by Thanksgiving.

Her job filling in for two law clerks who will take consecutive maternity leaves this summer will last only six months.

“It just adds another element of stress,” she said. “But I couldn’t sit on an offer because then you are afraid that they will just call candidate No. 2.”

In accepting the job, which will pay her about $30,000, Odian bypassed two long-term opportunities she had been pursuing, one as a legal assistant with The Spancrete Group in Waukesha and the other as a health care associate with Quarles & Brady LLP, which is based in Milwaukee.

“My first choice was Quarles because it would have been permanent and prestigious,” Odian said. “But I would have had to have the perfect interview.”

She said she wasn’t optimistic about the Quarles position because the firm is looking at candidates fresh out of law school and those who have more experience.

On the same day she accepted the clerk position, Odian cancelled an interview in Quarles’ Madison office and backed out of the running for Spancrete.

Odian said she has no regrets.

“I was weighing the risks, and having a job right now for six months,” she said, “outweighed the possibility of having no job at all.”

In this economy, new law school graduates rarely can be choosy, said Paul Katzman, assistant dean for career planning at Marquette Law School. Odian found out about the clerk position from Katzman’s office.

“It’s a bird-in-the-hand mentality,” he said. “Do I forgo a temporary opportunity to pursue a position I think will be a better fit and more stable?”

Katzman said it’s a question he has heard with more frequency, especially during the past three years.

It is also one with which Odian wrestled. Despite her confidence she made the right choice in going to law school, the thought of having to job hunt again taps into a hint of indecision, she said.

Odian said she went through the interview process and sent about 10 letters to local employers, and is not anxious to start over.

“You are sitting in the interview thinking, ‘My God, is this ever going to happen?'” she said. “I could interview 30 times before I find something that sticks just because everything is so competitive.”

A native of Charlestown, Mass., Odian didn’t have an immediate attraction to law school after graduating from the University of Massachusetts Lowell with a business degree.

She spent three years working for a local medical supply company and gravitated toward doing administrative work for the general counsel.

Odian said she was drawn to Marquette because of its sports law program and spent a semester in Oregon interning for Nike during her second year.

She supplemented that with a summer internship at the Milwaukee-office of Chicago-based litigation firm Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP.

But that experience, as well as graduating in the top 10 percent of her class, did little to distinguish her from the pack.

“It’s been frustrating,” she said, “because I felt like I did everything right.”

Until at least early fall, when Odian said she will start her next job search in earnest, she can call herself a working lawyer.

But by Christmas, if she doesn’t have another job in the legal world, she said, she easily could be working a cash register somewhere.

“I’m trying to be optimistic, and I hope that won’t be the case,” Odian said. “But if I had to do something outside of the legal profession, part of me would feel like I wasted three years and a lot of money.”

Jack Zemlicka can be reached at jack.zemlicka@wislawjournal.com.

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