BY CHRIS SZABLA
One 1L was so desperate for a job, he disrupted class to take a phone call from an employer. Another was taken aback when he was bombarded with questions about his grades well before they were released. In all, many 1Ls, whether pursuing lucrative summer associate positions with firms or seeking to volunteer for public interest organizations, say they are facing an uphill struggle this year, and neither enthusiasm nor the Harvard name appear to be helping. Varying reasons, from the state of the nation’s economy to the high hopes raised by the law school and their professors, may be responsible for 1Ls’ growing disappointment.
OCS’ Mark Weber reports that 1Ls were “faring fairly well” in their job search, despite the slowdown. Still, recent trends in the legal job market, and student experience that appear to corroborate them, suggest that those seeking firm jobs may have an especially difficult road ahead of them this year. Firms appear to have oversubscribed the number of 2Ls taken on during OCI, while facing a slowdown in their overall workloads. In the last few months, several firms have either laid off or reassigned associates working in sectors that have been the most heavily affected by the sub-prime mortgage crisis and related problems.
Despite these issues, firms retain the veneer of boom-era 1L recruiting efforts, maintaining a packed schedule of receptions in Boston restaurants and bars and continuing to fly out HLS students, sometimes as far as the West Coast, for interviews. Firms have likely maintained these measures in order to keep prospective associates interested in them for their 2L year, but they do not seem to have figured in the dampened enthusiasm of 1Ls, for some of whom weekly flights to California and back have been fruitless endeavors.
While the pace of recruiting has stayed the same, it may have become more competitive in content. One 1L, who, like many of those consulted for this article, preferred to remain anonymous, was taken aback by firms’ almost exclusive emphasis on grades. He described his interview experience as “less of an interview and more like having a discussion about the interviewer and the firm, while they waited for my grades. In other words,” he continued, “it seemed like they were more interested in my grades than getting to know me”.
The student said that every firm appeared eager to hear about his performance in class, and that it appeared to determine the result of his search – a callback from only one firm out of six. “It really kind of contradicted all the speeches our professors were giving us in classes,” he said of employers’ fixation on his transcript.
Much of the frustration appears to stem from expectations inflated by the perceived power of the Harvard name and frequent assertions made by professors and the career offices that grades are not as important as students think. At least one student believes she received bad advice directly.
“Everyone told me not to get wrapped up in the hype to apply for jobs by December 1st, so I didn’t,” she said. “But now it’s March, and all the people I know who got hyped [in December] have jobs, and I still don’t.” While Harvard’s name might guarantee she won’t be unemployed, she said, it might not fulfill its seeming promise. “I’m just a little concerned that I’m going to end up with ‘a’ job instead of taking advantage of the flexibility of the 1L summer to do something really cool.”Traditional alternatives to firm jobs have also proven difficult to obtain. A student who wishes to remain in the Boston area this summer recently abandoned his search for a 1L firm job when no opportunities appeared forthcoming. Relying on his experience as a research assistant, he applied for an RA position at HLS, only to be surprised to find that his competitors included a 3L who was high on the masthead of a journal.
Those seeking public interest opportunities have also reported difficulties. Weber stressed that around 50% of the 1L class takes public interest work, and would not need to worry about finding a paid position. OPIA’s Alexa Shabecoff said that she was not aware of any 1Ls facing significant difficulties finding public interest work this year, and noted that those whose job searches have been unsuccessful may have begun their search relatively late.
Even those who began searching early appear to have stumbled upon some roadblocks, however. “Many public interest organizations in San Francisco were not even willing to consider 1Ls for summer positions,” said one first year student, who has since secured a job. Another found it difficult to reconcile the different application timelines required by firms and public interest organizations.
“There are some public interest jobs that really appeal to me and are first in my queue of priorities, but I’m still waiting to hear back from them, and in the meantime I have forfeited several opportunities from the private sector,” she said. “I’m also unwilling to take the advice I’ve received from several sources to accept multiple jobs, and then choose the one I like best in May,” she continued. “This seems to me like a very disreputable way to do business.”
Students seeking positions abroad have become frustrated for additional reasons. “Everyone always seems to be saying that finding a job overseas is a lot easier than finding one in America, especially if you’re not working at a firm,” said one student. She quickly found out that this was not necessarily the case. “It’s very crucial to have ‘connections’ whenever you’re looking for work in another country,” she discovered. “They’re often not very receptive to students from America who want to do work there … they don’t always cooperate very well because it’s too much burden on them to hire someone from here, and the communication is almost impossible.”
Shabecoff said that students should keep things in perspective. “1Ls here should certainly know that they have it better than pretty much all other 1Ls across the country,” she emphasized.
Editor’s Note: This article has been revised from the printed version to include information obtained after the original publication date.