Job Searches, NALP, National Association for Law Placement (NALP)

A New Approach to Fall Recruiting

Back in February of this year, the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) announced a minor change to its recruiting guidelines. I was underwhelmed. New associates are graduating law school in a terrible job market, firms are sick of being forced to hire people two years before they know their staffing needs, and NALP is fiddling around with the open offer period? Make sure those deck chairs are properly arranged before we all drown!

A wise man once said: “This town needs an enema.”

Back in February I called for a complete overhaul of the fall recruiting process, and only the crickets heard me cry myself to sleep that night.

But today we’ve received word that a firm most of you have never heard of, and a school more known for its women’s basketball team than its law school, are teaming up to come up with a truly new approach to hiring law school graduates. Will it work? Will it catch on? At this point, who cares?

It’s a new idea — not some twice-baked, refried, reheated idea that wasn’t all that good the first time around….

The firm is Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis. You’d have heard of it only if you’ve ever been far enough south to know what grits are supposed to taste like. The law school is the University of Tennessee College of Law. You’d have heard of it if you ever got dinged from Texas but think people are fooled when you say you graduated from “UT-Law” (or if you read Instapundit, written by Professor Glenn Reynolds, the school’s most famous faculty member).

But the firm and the school don’t really matter. It’s the program — which is being rolled out at Tennessee, but is open to anybody who wants to apply — that sounds innovative. Here are the basics, from Waller Lansden’s press release:

Waller Lansden launches Schola2Juris recruitment initiative at UT

Waller Lansden will be on campus at the College of Law on Monday, Sept. 13, to unveil its new recruitment program to 2L students. After months at the drawing board, the Nashville-based firm of 190 attorneys will send representatives to discuss the intensive, practice-specific apprenticeship program, Schola2Juris, that will become its new pathway for hiring entry-level associates. Kathleen Pearson, director of professional recruiting, explained, “Rather than anticipating our hiring needs almost two years in advance, this program will enable the firm to assess its actual needs by practice area and focus its energies and resources on students whose skills and interests align with those needs.”

Waller Lansden attorneys and Pearson will outline the program model, which is based on a six week fall apprenticeship with work assignments and feedback delivered remotely between students in Knoxville and firm attorneys in Nashville. Current 2L students will apply in July before their 3L year begins. The program will be held in early fall, and participants will visit Nashville for a fall weekend retreat and have regular interaction with partners and associates during the six-week program. Offers for associate positions will be in keeping with established timetables for legal recruitments, so students can compare their experience with traditional summer associate programs before accepting an offer of an associate position.

I’ll pause to let everybody rush into the comments to make fun of the name of the program. (When we return to this very special episode of The Office: Michael gets shot to death while trying to explain “Schola2Juris” to a class of inner city youths.)

We back? Okay, let me point out four things about the initiative that immediately make it a more interesting approach to fall recruiting than anything else that has bubbled to the surface during the recession:

1) Moving recruiting to right before 3L year (as opposed to before 2L year) is an idea some firms have been begging for.
2) You are applying for positions the firm knows it needs to fill, not jobs the firm hopes will be available.
3) Did they just say feedback could be delivered remotely? Good God, you mean there is some machine that has been invented that allows people to work on assignments and receive feedback without physically being in the same office?
4) What the hell else are you doing as a 3L anyway?

Really, it’s always an exciting day when a law firm — any law firm — acknowledges that this thing called “the internet” allows people to work together in a whole new way. Go to school during the day (and remember, we’re talking about 3L year, which doesn’t count as school so much as it counts as being hijacked by the ABA out of another year’s worth of tuition); perform legal duties in the afternoon; drink your ass off at night. Wash, rinse, repeat.

And did we mention that associates would be applying to specific positions and practice areas? No more of this “rotation” through multiple departments, practice groups, or even offices, as summers continue the charade that they have even a marginal idea of what kind of law they want to practice. You want in on the M&A group? We’ve got one opening and three applicants; fight it out for six weeks like freaking adults!

We reached out to Kathleen Pearson for more details about the program. She told us that Waller Lansden intends for the program to follow this timeline:

* July – job openings are posted through simplicity, our site and facebook page
* August – In-house interviews
* September – program begins. Practice group assignments and training begins and is conducted in a virtual environment remotely from the student locations. Students will come to Nashville for a Fall Retreat weekend (Friday to Monday) to job shadow with practice groups, learn law firm economics 101 and other business issues. Social activities will also be scheduled.
*October 14 – Offers will be made on last day

Pearson tells us that she reached out to a number of current and former NALP members for their best ideas on how to make this program work. Maybe this is the kind of recruiting world we’d already be living in if NALP had the ability to force firms and schools to do what’s best for the firms and the students?

Under this system, you’ll know whether you have a job by October 14th of your 3L year. Under the current system, you’re supposed to know if you’ll have an offer by August before your 3L year, but in this market you can only believe that promise from a select few firms. Most of the students who are made offers through traditional summer recruiting can’t really be sure that they won’t be deferred. So what would you rather have: an offer in August 2011 that might turn into a deferment to 2013, or an offer in October 2011, for a specific job waiting for you when you graduate?

Can this program catch on? While there seem to be a lot of benefits to recruiting this way, it’s hard to see a student at a top school (say T14) who has the opportunity to get a traditional summer associate offer forgoing 8-12 weeks of Biglaw salary during their 2L summer. Money talks; it was always thus.

But if you look at the truly terrible state of 3L recruiting right now, this idea has legs. Why wouldn’t more firms get essentially six weeks of free labor disguised as a job interview for the one or two spots that they do have open for graduating 3Ls? Why wouldn’t more schools beg firms to give their 3Ls a six-week shot at a job? What, these schools are going to stand on the ceremony that the 3L education is somehow useful to anybody? Not in this market.

UPDATE: Pearson has just informed us that Waller Lansden will be paying a $10,000 scholarship to students in the program. This kind of keeps getting better and better. Who couldn’t use an extra $10,000 3L year?

You know what would be interesting? If students from around the country started flooding Waller Lansden with applications to join this new program. If a regional firm starts pulling in applications from all across the country from desperate third years, other firms will take notice.

Even if you think this is a terrible idea, at least it’s an actual idea. And right now we need an influx of new ideas. Maybe this program wouldn’t work well at your firm; that’s fine. Get in the laboratory and come up with something better. Something different. Something that starts to push back on this crazy world of deferrals, hiring plans made two years in advance, and scores of 3Ls with no opportunities to even get an interview, much less a job.

Earlier: Meet the New NALP Recruiting Guidelines, They’re Substantially Similar to the Old NALP Recruiting Guidelines.

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