By Lisa Van Der Pool, Boston Business Journal

BOSTON (CBS) – Amanda Muller wanted to be a lawyer since she was 7 years old.

But although the Illinois native graduated from Boston University School of Law one year ago in May and was sworn into the Massachusetts Bar last November, she has yet to find a full-time job practicing law. That’s despite the fact that she¹s applied to hundreds, perhaps thousands of jobs, she estimates. And like most recent grads, she has more than $100,000 in student loan debt.

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“I’ve heard too many times to count, ‘We’d love to hire you, but we don’t have a job for you,'” said Muller, 28, who is working part-time doing document review work while she job hunts. “I try not to get frustrated.”

Muller has plenty of company and competition from her fellow law school graduates of 2010. Nationally, the 2010 law school class shares the unpleasant distinction of having an overall employment rate of 87.6 percent, the lowest rate since 1996, according to a recent report from the National Association for Law Placement Inc. (NALP) in Washington, D.C.

Before the recession hit, it was the norm for law students to graduate with a job. Now, some media outlets have dubbed law school graduates the “lost generation of lawyers.”

Nikki Oliveira, 25, went straight from graduating college to attending law school at New England Law Boston. After graduating in 2010, she spent the year getting her master’s from Boston University School of Law¹s Graduate Tax program. Oliveira, who has had two interviews so far but hasn¹t heard anything back, describes the current job market as awful.

Lisa Van Der Pool of the Boston Business Journal reports

“Last Thursday I went to an alumni reception … there were so many people who graduated last year who still aren’t employed,” said Oliveira.

New England Law Boston¹s employment rate for the class of 2010 is 84 percent. Boston University School of Law and Suffolk University Law School did not provide employment rates for the class of 2010 by press time.

In recent years, the legal job market has been marked by job losses.

Nationally, the country’s top 250 firms as a group employed a whopping 9,567 fewer lawyers in 2010 than it did in 2008, according to the National Law Journal.

In Boston, in 2009 alone the city¹s top 25 law firms lost 9 percent of their lawyers, or about 410 attorneys.

This year firms have began hiring, but only in dribs and drabs.

One year-plus job searches for young graduates are not unusual. That was the case for Ben Montgomery, a 2009 Suffolk University Law School grad.

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Montgomery worked for six years before going to law school. While there, he padded his resume with internships, including serving as editor of the law journal at Suffolk, working for Fish & Richardson LLP, the district attorney’s office in Boston and the attorney general¹s office in New York.

After graduation he moved back to New York, but didn¹t find full-time work.

In January of 2010, he moved back to his parents’ house in West Roxbury. For the past year, he¹s been living in their basement.

“It was pretty horrendous,” said Montgomery, 34. “I worked really hard in school, I did the law journal thing and carefully chose my internships… So yeah, it was a little bit surprising how long (the job search) took.”

Two months ago Montgomery was hired by Partners HealthCare’s transactional affairs department where he works with a team of lawyers. A few weeks ago, he moved into a one-bedroom apartment in West Roxbury.

“It was liberating,” said Montgomery, who has more than $100,000 in law school debt.

Another 2010 graduate, Jacquelyn Redmond, 26, says one recent job she applied for had 1,200 applicants. But currently Redmond, a Brookline resident and graduate of Florida State University’s law school, has had several interviews, including a series of interviews with the Middlesex DA’s office.

“I am very persistent. I don¹t let them forget about me once I apply,” said Redmond.

NALP’s report revealed that not only has the employment rate fallen more than 4 percentage points since hitting a 20-year high of 91.9 percent back in 2007, but also that only 68.4 percent of the 2010 class held jobs that require bar passage. That¹s down from 74.7 percent in 2008.

Clearly, young lawyers are leaving the profession.

Christopher Strang, co-chair of the Boston Bar Association’s New Lawyers Section and co-founder of Desmond Strang & Scott hopes that most recent grads won’t give up on practicing law. “It drives me crazy to see them struggling and getting no after no,” said Strang. “I do think they will find a way, but to be unemployed for a year or two is very disheartening.”

Since law school graduation in May from Suffolk, Daniel Maltzman has been scouring online job listings, legal newspapers and networking to find work.

“For the most part I apply to 10 or 15 a week. Most of the responses are nothing, or decline. I haven¹t gone on an interview yet,” said Maltzman.

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“It¹s kind of like a cloud that follows you everywhere… But if you you¹re not positive, this stuff will overwhelm you, you can¹t take it personally.”