It’s that time of year again. 3Ls have sent off their acceptance letters, dreaming of the 60-hour workweek and the six-figure salary attached to it. 2Ls have settled on a place to work, wondering if they’ll get the offer and if the decision they just made is one that will extend beyond a summer. 1Ls, blissfully unaware of the agony that can arise from having to make life-altering decisions a year or two before graduation, wait for the rapidly approaching day when they are allowed to officially interview and find a job for the summer. This is the way things have worked at HLS and the top law schools for a while now-but is it the way things need to be?
HLS actually has it better than other schools. While some complain that the late recruiting schedule harms HLS students by leaving few remaining slots open at firms, just think about the level of motivation you might have if by the second week of classes in your 2L year you already knew where you were going to work and live for the following summer and possibly after. More time to recruit and decide is better as it allows students more time to research, more time to inquire, more time to ponder, and, ultimately, more time to make an informed decision. The current system is not enough.
There are complaints that HLS is too “firm friendly”, that it encourages students too much to go to a firm and not enough to go public interest. This pressure is not unique to HLS. Not only do public interest jobs lack the resources to actively recruit students, they also often lack the organizational capacity to have a clear idea of hiring needs for two years down the road. Quite simply, the enticement of firms comes not only from their recruitment on campus and their high salaries-it also comes from the security they offer, of providing HLS students with a good, high-paying job early on and removing the worry of graduating without a job.
HLS cannot do anything about this problem on its own. As influential as the school may be, any large changes to the recruitment system would leave students at a disadvantage relative to other schools. Yet the clerkship system has begun to reform itself, with clerks no longer having to make their decisions years in advance. This came not only through pressure from students but also from the recognition of judges that clerks who are certain about their decision will probably have greater motivation to be there. Firms should take a similar look at the current system, one in which a significant portion of firm lawyers burn out after a few years.
Reforming the system to give students more time to decide where to work would benefit everyone. Firms would benefit by getting students who are motivated to go work for the firm and students would benefit by getting more time to weight their options.