Washington among states with more lawyers than jobs

YAKIMA -- When Dave Power passed the bar exam three years ago, the new attorney applied for 30 to 40 jobs throughout Washington -- only to be rejected again and again.

In one letter, he was told that more than 300 people had applied for a single opening, 100 of whom had two to three years of experience.

Luckily, Power found work, but not always in his field. At one point, he even supervised an information technology crew for Boeing.

"It was really competitive then. I can't imagine what it's like now," said Power, 28, who was hired as a Yakima County deputy prosecutor six weeks ago. "I like my job. I'm very happy to be here."

Power's struggle to find work is typical for new attorneys, according to research compiled by Economic Modeling Specialists Inc., an Idaho-based company that focuses on employment trends and economic analysis.

According to its data, every state but Wisconsin and Nebraska -- plus Washington, D.C. -- are producing far more attorneys than needed. Across the nation, there were twice as many people who passed the bar in 2009 as there were openings.

Washington has the 20th-highest surplus of lawyers in the country, a statistic that doesn't surprise Terri Jackson. As operations manager for the Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, she helps with staffing.

A few years ago, she would receive 10 to 20 applications per opening. The number has since jumped to about 35, she said.

To get noticed, she advises new attorneys to volunteer their services. That way, they can make connections while proving their value to prospective employers.

"We need resources, and we call upon them for legal research and other things," she said. "It's good for them and for us."

In the private sector, the situation appears less grim.

Two weeks ago, Lee & Associates of Yakima hired Ryan McPherson, a Montana native and graduate of Regent University in Virginia, who had been searching for steady work since 2008. Although frustrated by the job market, McPherson said he never lost hope.

"I realized you needed a personal connection to find opportunities," said McPherson, 29, who learned of the position through the wife of a law school friend.