‘Challenging’ market forces flexibility in hiring

BY MEREDITH MCKEE

Well into fall interviewing season, law students are expressing concerns about their chances of finding jobs in a weakening legal market, especially in cities like Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Los Angeles.

While discounting many rumors about the weaknesses of particular practice areas, cities and firms, Mark Weber, director of the Office of Career Services, urged students to approach interviews with “cautious optimism” and to view on-campus interviewing as only one method for finding a job.

“We were hearing a lot of concern,” Weber said, explaining his decision to address the hiring situation in an email distributed to students on the Friday before Fly-Out Week. “It was a tough memo to write: ‘Hey, don’t be concerned, but at the same time, this is what’s going on out there, so here’s some of the information you need to know.'”

Weber wrote the email after OCS’ peer advisors and staff reported hearing of concerns and rumors about the job market from the students they had been talking with.

“I’m hearing crazy rumors about how only one-fourth of the students called back in D.C. will get summer offers, and other unsubstantiated and often implausible worries,” said Hanna Stotland, a 3L peer advisor.

“Some 2L students are expressing envy that it was so much easier for the class of ’02 when we were 2Ls, but on the other hand, there are a number of people in ’02 who are stuck without offers because some firms hired such big summer classes,” she added.

Though most are groundless, Stotland and Weber agree that “some rumors are true.”

“The market seems a lot tighter, especially in D.C. and California,” Stotland said. “Many firms that interviewed 2Ls and pre-clerks last year are saying ‘2Ls only’ this year.”

Hiring has been most affected in coastal areas like New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Silicon Valley, and Los Angeles, Weber said.

“A lot of it is in the nature of the clientele,” he said. “They weren’t doing as much of the IPOs and start-up work in cities like Chicago. They were doing that on the coasts and are feeling it a little bit more.

“When things were booming they couldn’t find enough lawyers in San Francisco or D.C., so they are getting hit the hardest,” he added. “But other areas, because of the clients they had or the type of work they were doing, didn’t have the same impact.”

Students interested in entering the public sector face fewer challenges, said Alexa Shabecoff, director of the Office of Public Interest Advising.

“I don’t think the economy has impacted the jobs in the public sector as much as the private sector,” Shabecoff said. “Over the past five years, a lot of wealth trickled down to the private sector in fellowships and awards, creating a lot of additional [public interest] positions.”

Still, she said, increased competition for public interest jobs may occur as 1Ls who are unable to find firm jobs turn to the public sector.

“I do think that people who want to do public interest for the summer should be strategic about when they apply and how they apply, more so this year than last,” Shabecoff said. “I wouldn’t want people to wait too late into the year to apply for jobs in case the market does get saturated. I’d also suggest that 1Ls may want to cover their bases.”

Students might consider expanding their job searches to cities in the South and Midwest, Weber suggested, or less popular coastal cities.

“It means that if your heart was set on Boston, by all means, apply in Boston, but you should also say, ‘What about Providence?'” he said.

Stotland advised that students approach the hiring process calmly.

“Panic is never helpful, and anticipatory panic is destructive and a big waste of time,” she said. “Cross the no-offers bridge if and when you come to it.”

Stotland echoed Weber’s advice that students expand their thinking about summer options.

“Think outside the box,” she said. “Consider some additional cities. Look at less sexy fields that are still begging for bodies, like bankruptcy. Think about whether you might like to spend the summer doing legal work for a sports team, a corporation or a media outlet instead of a firm.”

For students who are interested in work in the legal sector but do not want to work for a firm, Shabecoff suggested they investigate research positions with HLS professors or summer jobs with Law School organizations like the Prison Legal Assistance Project and Legal Aid.

One-L hiring also will be tougher this year, Weber said, since firms are making cutbacks across the board.

But Weber is optimistic about the outlook for 1Ls, saying, “Would you rather be a 1L or a 3L in this market?” By the time 1Ls are ready to enter the legal market in 2004, he said, “these issues will have been long-gone.”

“Just turn the clock back a year ago and look at what the second-years thought last year — it was a thriving market, the economy was booming, and if you had any money in the stock market, you were doing very well,” Weber said. “And now we fast-forward a year an it’s a much different picture.”

For the summer of 2002, 1Ls should focus on gaining experience, Weber said.

“What we are telling first-years is to be flexible,” he said. “Just like you would tell any investor to diversify, we would tell any individual approaching the job search not to put all their eggs in one basket.”

For example, Weber said, students who want to work in the private sector should investigate medium and small firms that don’t recruit on campus.

Although, Weber observed, “this too shall pass,” “it’s certainly no fun for anyone who is directly impacted by it.”

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