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Will Litigate for Food: NJ AG Takes On Attorney Volunteers

By Tanya Roth, Esq. | Last updated on
It's almost like a lawyer joke, but slightly less amusing. The recession, said to be dying down, is still affecting jobs to the point where even those with years of schooling and the stamina to work an 80 hour week are out of work. To wit, lawyers. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the number of unemployed lawyers jumped 66 percent last year, to a total of 20,000. In New Jersey, the state has come up with a good solution for keeping those out of work attorneys busy and off the street corners: be an attorney volunteer for the AG.

New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram has started taking on qualified attorneys as volunteers in her office. This is a quite a switch from past days when unpaid internships were given only to students. But with the assistance of those volunteers, the Attorney General gets a start on filling the holes blasted in her office staff by state budget cuts. The Division of Law is still under a hiring freeze after losing about 130 lawyers since January 2006. 

NPR reports today that more than 100 volunteers have applied and more than 60 have already been placed with the office. They do research, take depositions, and sometimes appear in court, but usually as the second chair. Ray Solomon, Dean of the Reuters Law School in Camden, told NPR he's not surprised there's been so much interest in the volunteer program. In other recessions, the public sector has been a bit of a safe haven when private firms weren't hiring. Solomon says that's not the case anymore.

Volunteering is a good way for newly minted lawyers to get experience, but it's an even better deal for the state. Not only does it help attack the AG's case load over all departments, those volunteering in the debt recovery unit are actually making the state money, to the tune of about $20 million a year for the unit as a whole.

It's unclear whether the avalanche of relatively inexperienced workers in demanding positions will put too much strain on the AG's paid lawyers who will have to supervise the work. But over all, it seems like everyone wins to some extent. Anne Milgram says, "This is a great opportunity for qualified candidates to learn how state government works, to gain experience in areas of the law that may be unfamiliar to them, and to make a genuine difference by working on legal matters that impact on New Jersey citizens." Or, they might just prefer a salary.

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