BY JONAS BLANK
Students look to on-campus hiring, public interest and less-traditional alternatives
While 2Ls settle into a long, slow semester of post-Winter Term slacking and 3Ls spend their days getting extra sleep instead of studying, many 1Ls are finding themselves in the worst throes of mid-February job jitters. Without final offers from months-ago interviews and, in some cases, without the possibility of securing OPIA summer funding, such students have a right to be nervous, HLS credentials notwithstanding. Today’s tight job market, replete with horror stories and dour unemployment statistics, only makes things worse.
But despite this year’s grimmer outlook, most 1Ls — even those still without offers — are not out of luck.
“I think the job search in general has changed,” said 1L Saru Matambanadzo. “I have friends who went to HLS in the 1990s, and they assured me that pretty much everyone can get a firm position in their 1L summer if they want to. This year, that was not the case.”
After receiving rejections from all the firms she applied to in Philadelphia, Matambanadzo ultimately found a law firm position in the smaller Pittsburgh market.
Students still trying to find firm jobs also have reason to hope. As some employers wait for student grades to arrive, OCS is gearing up its yearly spring on-campus interviewing process. The 25 firms expected to participate cannot compare to the army of employers that arrives in the fall, but, according to Career Services Director Mark Weber, this year’s results are typical of the average spring draw of 25 to 35 firms. There is also a slightly smaller student pool of 155 signed up for OCI this year, down from 161 in 2001. Although most firms are scaling back summer programs at all levels by 30 to 50 percent, Weber said there is no reason to believe that will disproportionately impact already-smaller 1L hiring programs.
“Firms are still going to want 1Ls,” he said, especially those firms that may be trying to raise their profile at HLS. “Oftentimes, a firm trying to break into a law school market will start by interviewing 1Ls…. It’s a good way to talk up the firm. Sometimes it allows them to take people they might not be able to get in their second year.”
A 1L who does not return in their second year but still has a positive experience, Weber argues, functions as a “loss leader,” getting other students interested even if they themselves go elsewhere.
Loss leaders or not, some 1Ls are managing to land plum firm placements.
“I still feel lucky that I got a job at all, given how tight the market is,” said 1L Peter Massumi, who is taking a position with Kirkland & Ellis in Los Angeles this summer. Despite his success, he added that, “It was a little harder than I expected…. I received only three interviews out of 30-plus applications.”
Similarly, despite what he called, “a smaller yield than I expected,” 1L and J.D./M.B.A. student Billy Gonzalez will be taking a position with Latham & Watkins in Washington, D.C. He added that while he had no basis for comparison in legal careers, internship opportunities are perceived to have dropped off significantly on the business side.
For students still looking for firm jobs, Weber said, “Hopefully they’re in OCI, but that’s not even the be-all, end-all…. They should cast a wide net both geographically and in terms of the kinds of work they want to do.” Weber also suggests what he called “lots of networking” and “targeted marketing.”
For other students, the waiting game is the worst part.
“I interviewed with five firms at home in North Carolina over Christmas,” said Kyle Hudson, a 1L. “I’ve been rejected by two and still haven’t heard anything from the other three. One of the firms was kind enough to let me know that they had decided to give their one 1L spot to the grandson of the founder of the firm.”
If a student is still jobless by March, Weber says it may be time to consider other options. He emphasizes that 1Ls should not feel obligated to pursue firm jobs in their first year, even if they hope to do so eventually.
“Firms understand why you didn’t have a job at Skadden Arps over the summer,” he said. “They understand what the market is like, especially the first year market.”
Rather than cause for consternation, the 1L summer can be an opportunity to bolster a student’s resume in other ways. In the past, students have indulged such diverse pursuits as mountain climbing, writing, traveling and working abroad. Many also work as research assistants for favorite professors — a valuable experience for those hoping to be involved in legal writing and publishing. Although such pursuits do not provide law firm experience, Weber said, they do give students interesting topics to talk up during interviews. But whatever a student does for the summer, Weber does recommend getting in some legal experience.
“When all is said and done, the most important thing that someone can get is a law-related or legal experience, gathering data about the profession they’re about to enter,” he said.
“You don’t want to lose this opportunity to learn more about the profession.”
Among the under-utilized options are in-house counsel opportunities, some of which are listed on the OCS web site.
Partially driven by the downturn in the firm market, more 1Ls are also gravitating toward public interest-related pursuits.
“We are indeed seeing a boom of interest in summer hiring,” said Office of Public Interest Advising Director Alexa Shabecoff. “Some of it was unrelated to the private sector market — we had record numbers of students at some of our events, including Public Service Orientation. But obviously some of the interest is from students who are concerned about not getting a private sector job this summer….”
One of those students was Corey Wilks, a 1L who originally hoped to obtain a law firm job. Instead, he will likely choose a position with the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Justice.
“I’m just going to take the summer money and not worry about it,” he said. “It would have been nice to earn more money at a firm, but this will be fine for 1L year.”
Unfortunately, 1Ls just beginning to search for public sector jobs face an additional obstacle — a lack of summer funding. According to Lisa Dealy, Director of the Summer Public Interest Funding Program, this year saw an increase of more than a hundred students requesting summer funds, from 306 to 406 this year.
“In prior years I have allowed students to seek funding even if they were late in getting the applications in,” she said. “This year, because of the rise in numbers seeking funding I have had to be strict about the application deadline [December 7] and so we have a wait list.”
While Dealy hopes to be able to accommodate everyone evemtially, the current wait list stands at more than 20 students, and the money for them may simply not be there.
Despite the flurry of job-related worries, Weber counsels 1Ls to relax. Whatever the outcome, he says, “This shouldn’t add to your stress level …. Your first summer is not going to make or break your law career.”