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Steep rise in lawyers out of work

August 5, 2009. Globes: Ela Levi-Weinrib

In the past six months, the ratio of jobseekers to positions offered has risen to ten to one.

Data on the oversupply of lawyers in Israel is disrupting the sleep of many in the profession. In the past decade, Israel has become the country with the highest number of lawyers in relation to its population, the number of lawyers hired by law firms in the past nine years nearly equals the number of lawyer hired in Israel's first 50 years. Within 19 years, the number of lawyers in Israel rose nearly four-fold from 10,697 in 1990 to 40,469 at the beginning of 2009.

The Israel Bar Association is not prepared to countenance this and it is at the forefront of efforts to halt the deterioration in the legal profession and restore its lost prestige. Its proposals include extending internships to two years, requiring entrance exams into specific fields, and setting up schools for specialized fields where candidates will study for qualifying exams.

However, the path toward implementing these proposals is a very long one, and passes through the hands of the minister of the justice and the legislature, which are no hurry to go anywhere. Meanwhile, while the legislature deliberates, thousands of unemployed lawyers are wandering around the market. They are joined by 3,500 new colleagues every year, who celebrate joining the bar and jump head first into the competitive market.

The global economic crisis is also contributing to the problem. Figures collated by the Bar Association's jobs center, which has provided a free placement service lawyers for lawyers since 2004, indicate that competition for jobs in the law market is fierce. During the first half of 2009, 3,602 applied to the jobs center, compared with 2,130 in all of 2008.

Before 2008, when the Israeli economy became more exposed to the crisis, the increase in the number of jobseeking lawyers was gradual and barely felt. In 2006, 1,461 lawyers applied to the jobs center, and the number increased by just 33 lawyers in 2007, to 1,494.

But them came the economic crisis, and upset the applecart. Initially, many lawyers preferred to embellish the reality, decorate with slogans, and keep quiet about the cutbacks, firings, and hardships, in an effort to ignore them and keep off the media searchlights. But the truth is slowly coming to light.

To anyone who insists on asserting that the crisis barely affected the legal market in 2008, we provide the following figures: 2,130 lawyers applied to the Bar Association's jobs center in 2008, 57% more than in the preceding year. The situation in the first half of 2009 was even worse.

Bar Association's jobs center coordinator Adv. Michal Kremer-Reshef said, "The surge began in 2008. With the outbreak of the crisis, many lawyers were thrown into the job market, and brought them to the jobs center for help." She added, "In the past two months, it is possible to see a recovery in the market in the hiring of lawyers by law firms and companies, compared with the preceding months."

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