Public Interest Recruiting: A Proposal

BY ANDREA SAENZ

Every fall, law firm recruiters descend on the campus in astounding numbers. Crowds of them. Hordes. And every year, a few public sector employers manage to find enough change in their couch cushions to make the trip, too. It’s safe to say that more would like to come, and students would like to interview with them. But they just can’t.

A private firm can afford to fly their staff to top law schools for days at a time, sleeping at fancy hotels and eating expensive lunches on the firm dime. Government and non-profit employers, even ones big enough to know their hiring needs far in advance, don’t have the dough.

As a result, law students searching for a 2L summer job have two very uneven paths laid before them: the red carpet of firm OCI, or the much rockier path of public interest employment, which most students have to search out on their own time and money. It’s no wonder that only the truest of the true believers choose that path for their 2L summer jobs – a few dozen out of a class of 550. And a majority of students who work at a firm 2L summer will return to it after graduation or a clerkship. The fall recruitment season doesn’t operate in a bubble – it directly affects what happens to our graduates.

It occurs to me that, at a place like Harvard Law, it doesn’t have to be like this. If there’s any law school with the resources and the administrative support to smooth rough edges from the path of public service, it should be this one, especially given Dean Kagan’s loud and frequent promises to make public service a real, livable option for graduates.

I’m not going to be naive. The Magical Firm Salary is a powerful, almost magnetic force that helps draw the majority of graduates into the private sector. The public sector just can’t compete on that level. But it can compete in terms of job satisfaction, the ability to make a difference, work-life balance, and responsibility. Anything the school can do to make those choices more possible for students, it should.

So what if recruiting was easier? What if more public interest employers came to campus to recruit 2Ls and 3Ls? What if more students could take advantage of a middle way – a paved path between the red carpet and the rocky trail? (Metaphor tortured enough for you? I’m trying to use my English degree for something.)

Harvard Law can make this happen. What we’d need is a program to subsidize the costs of more public interest recruiters interviewing on-campus. Call them Public Interest Recruitment Opportunity Grants. Call them Bleeding Heart Bucks. Whatever. Have interested employers contact OCS and OPIA, and pick ten or twelve that could fill up a day’s worth of interviews. Ask them to itemize their travel and hotel costs for one recruiter for one day. The costs will vary – a New York agency won’t need as much as an Alabama non-profit. Pay their costs in advance up to $500, or $700, or whatever seems appropriate. Issue a press release about how awesome HLS is.

The result of a program like this would be to entirely change the tenor of the fall recruiting season. The number of public interest employers coming to campus would nearly double, giving students multiple options that actually interest them – and some real job search security. Students on the “bubble” – the ones who’d like to do public interest if it wasn’t so incredibly troublesome in comparison to getting a firm job – would be able to keep that interest alive. The sky would rain candy. Well, no, not that. But bringing the recruiters right to the students would be a win-win for everyone.

Harvard Law has proved itself willing to step up to the plate when it comes to public interest money, through LIPP and summer funding. Now it’s time to take the next step. It’s time to go beyond funding the students who make it through the gauntlet of peer, social, and school pressures and still come out with a job at Legal Aid, and look at ways to keep students’ original interests alive in the first place.

Bringing more public interest recruiters to campus, even on the school dime, is one such way. I admit it would cost a bit more than expanded coffee service. But it’d be worth more, too. It’s something to think about.

Andrea Saenz, 1L, is one of The Record’s Public Interest Editors. She WISHES the sky would rain candy.

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