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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA Job Market : PART ONE: JOB PROSPECTS : High-Paying Professions : The strong Southland economy has raised the demand for top talent

May 17, 1987|DANIEL AKST | Times Staff Writer

For professionals, Southern California is blessed. Its decades-long business boom, its growing status as a Pacific Rim financial center and its affluent population have made it fertile soil over the years for lawyers and accountants, doctors and dentists.

And 1987, the experts say, is a particularly good one hereabouts for the top prospects in these and other high-priced fields.

"As the money flows this way, the service professions, whether lawyers or architects, are going to find themselves in demand," said Ronald E. Gerevas, Los Angeles managing partner for Heidrick & Struggles, a recruitment firm.

But as with much in the economy, the emphasis in the professions is on quality. For the most talented professionals, things seem better than ever, not surprising given that in hardly any other endeavor does knowledge equate so directly with power.

For the mediocre, however, especially for those fresh out of middling professional schools, it will often be a matter of finding acceptable employment rather than picking and choosing between dream jobs.

Demand this year is strongest in financial services, at prestige law firms and for certain kinds of engineers.

Professionals looking for jobs with big companies may have the hardest time of all. Northwestern University's 41-year-old Endicott-Lindquist Report, which studies the job market mostly by polling big concerns, said 56% of its respondents "intentionally reduced their professional or exempt staffs during the last year."

The study also found that most professionals already working for such companies can expect pay increases of 4% to 6% this year, the same as last year.

One anomaly for professionals in Southern California is their great reluctance to leave the region, even in law, where salaries are far below New York standards. At UCLA, for example, three-quarters of law graduates remain in Southern California, and not for want of offers elsewhere.

The syndrome is so well known that some prospective employers from elsewhere don't bother to recruit here anymore.

Over the long term, the outlook for professionals everywhere is bright. Neal H. Rosenthal, chief of the occupational outlook division at the U.S. Labor Department, projects that by 1995 the number of jobs for attorneys will be up 36%. So will jobs for engineers. Accounting jobs will be up 35%; architects, 27%; dentists, 25%, and physicians, 23%.

For the shorter term, here's a rundown on the outlook for some of the leading professions this spring.

LAW

The competition for top legal talent is practically frenzied--"dramatic," in the words of Gregg Ziskind of Ziskind, Greene & Associates, a recruiter.

The problem, experts say, is that the nation's top law schools are producing roughly the same number of graduates year after year, while demand for the services of lawyers with big-league credentials has skyrocketed.

America is more litigious now, but other things have changed, too. No longer is such a stigma attached to jumping from one job to another, going to work in investment banking or even joining a corporation. Corporate mergers, huge courtroom liability cases and skyrocketing legal fees have also changed the attorney's landscape.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles has exploded as a financial and legal center, and is likely to continue doing so now that the Far East has become so important to the world's economy.

"I'm doing more work in the legal arena than we've ever done in L.A. in 26 years," Gerevas said. "It's all based around the fact that Los Angeles is becoming the financial center of the Pacific Rim."

As a result, firms from New York, Washington, Chicago and elsewhere have opened offices in Los Angeles, and because they all tend to practice high-priced corporate law, they all need blue-chip lawyers of the kind that big corporations demand for their legal work.

So a 1982 graduate of a law school like Stanford can make $90,000 to $105,000 with a big firm, said Denise DeMann, a co-owner of Bench Ltd., a legal recruitment firm. She said smaller firms are paying $59,000 to $65,000 for lawyers with that level of experience. But she added that big-money lawyers must work more hours these days, and even top associates several years out of school are suffering salary compression: Starting pay has risen so fast that new graduates make almost as much as those ahead of them.

Leading firms here are expected to start top graduates at about $52,000 a year, up as much as $10,000 from last year, thanks to skyrocketing salaries at big New York firms, which will continue to set the pace at about $65,000 this year. Said Stephen Yandel, associate dean of the Yale Law School: "The big firms in major metropolitan areas are just ravenous for graduates."

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