ADVICE TO LAW SCHOOLS – SOLICIT BIGLAW? NO. HELP LAW STUDENTS? YES. PLACEMENT TO BIGLAW? NO. CAREER PLANNING FOR STUDENTS? YES.
It is critically important at this time when there has been a decline in recruiting by the large law firms who have dominated campus interviewing to deemphasize employer outreach.
A school unable to attract sufficient employer responses adds to the students’ frustration. Their self-esteem is diminished since they are not being considered by the firms courted by the school, apparently the ones who have the school’s stamp of approval. Some career planners believe they are not using their talents and time to their own best advantage and that of their students. One said that 85% of her resources are devoted to employer outreach from which only 15% of her students found positions.
The goal of employer outreach by career staff is the scheduling of on-campus interviewers to supply students with the knowledge of where the jobs are. Where there are a substantial number of firms recruiting on campus, many accept jobs they are not suited for because their decision making process is flawed. They are unaware of the breadth of their options and the importance of balancing priorities such as work satisfaction and high income.
Law school support for the emphasis on placement may come from the desire for positive recognition in the USNews’s annual “Placement Success Rank” category. This rewards the schools that bring in the most firms and have the most graduates taking the highest paying positions the quickest.
What is the value of this professional degree? It varies. According to the USNews, “To the student, the value of a professional degree often is determined by its worth on the job market.” For some it is just that, a way to earn a decent income. For others, the value is a sense of self-worth and satisfaction from having many options, autonomy and significant responsibility, or the opportunity to do “something that matters” to them. Others believe it provides the opportunity to contribute to the common good, to help those who without their assistance might never have a lawyer or to play a small part in bringing about social justice and equal access to the legal system.
The focus on employer outreach obscures the fact that most openings are publicized at the time employers have an immediate opening, not months in advance. As a consequence many organizations students might want to work for will not make their openings known early in the school year, in September, or even December and, more likely, not until after graduation. Furthermore, the way in which they will be publicized will probably be by word-of-mouth since estimates are that less than 5% of all jobs are advertised in writing.
Employer outreach fails to reflect the breadth of legal demographics at some schools and at other simply fails to attract sufficient employers. It needs to be deemphasized and replaced by career planning based on outreach within the law school community. The primary focus would be on educating students about their options, career planning methods and how to search for openings using self-directed employer outreach.
Rather than telling students “There are few jobs and we will try to place you”, law schools should move in the direction that will support them most appropriately and “There are so many options and opportunities and we will teach you how to search for the one that will be the most satisfying for you, the one most consistent with your professional goals and your personal values.”