Bad Ideas, Biglaw, Job Searches, Law Schools, Money

Columbia Asks Alumni for $1,000 to Help Pay for Biglaw Interviews

File this under: “reasons why the alumni office should clear everything with the PR department.”

Yesterday, somebody at Columbia Law School sent out an email to recent alumni asking for a $1,000 donation (or twelve $85 monthly installments) to help current law students. No, Columbia isn’t setting up another scholarship fund for public interest fellows. CLS isn’t even trying to make direct cash transfers to unemployed graduates in exchange for their silence. Instead, Columbia wants $1,000 from alumni to help offset the cost of the “early interview program” during which Columbia rising 2Ls interview with Biglaw firms and snag offers for jobs.

Do you think Columbia culled its alumni list to make sure that only graduates who were also working in Biglaw were even asked to make this kind of questionable donation? Of course they didn’t! A bunch of Columbia grads who aren’t working in Biglaw were asked to… wait, let me get this language exactly right:

“Give a student the chance at a dream job.”

Hilarity ensues….

The reaction to this ad from the Columbia alumni we’ve heard from has been furious. Here it is, in pertinent part (check out the full ad on the next page):

I think the part I love most is all the other things that Columbia suggests you can waste your $85 on, instead of giving to the morally superior cause of helping Columbia pay for hotel rooms.

Columbia’s own law graduates have been savaging the school:

The real pathos, of course, is that Columbia thinks its alumni should give up martinis and manicures to help people land $160,000 jobs. (At least according to its somewhat vague 2010 stats, that’s a salary that a large percentage of CLS grads still obtain.) I’d much rather spend $85 per month to feed children who really are starving, provide polio vaccinations, treat malaria, buy books for struggling U.S. schools — or even give to public interest law fellowships at a state law school. I already do all of those things, and I’m going to apply another $85 a month (in Columbia’s dishonor) to other worthy charities like that.

Is it to help buy snacks for hungry interviewers? Maybe to help underprivileged CLS students buy new suits? But is there even such a thing as an underprivileged CLS student? Even if there was, I think they could scramble together $400 of loan money for a jacket and tie. Weird.

[T]he flyer almost seems like a save the children ad! For just $85 a month you can feed children in Africa, or help a law student get their “dream job” at a big law firm!

A lot of people wondered why Columbia needs any money for the Early Interview Program. They thought firms paid for the hotel rooms when they come to see CLS students. I think those people overestimate the desirability of employing law students in this market. As Professor Paul Campos explains, over at Inside the Law School Scam:

The Early Interview Program is a gigantic four-day cattle call held at a midtown hotel in mid-August, at which hundreds of students do thousands of interviews with big law firms. CLS also offers a more conventional OCI program at the school itself, running from mid-September to mid-November, but I get the impression from the school’s web site that this pre-semester meet market is the “main” OCI event (CLS students or alums are encouraged to elaborate in comments)…

Moving this thing off campus — I understand NYU does something similar — costs the school (aka its students) a huge pile. Columbia has close to 1000 2Ls and 3Ls, and apparently it’s common for people to do 15 or 20 interviews, or more, so the school must have to rent a good part of a midtown hotel for four days at the height of tourist season. And for what? So that midtown firms don’t have to board the Nellie and head upriver to Morningside Heights? So that CLS professors — most of whom are nowhere near the law school in mid-August — don’t have to open a few of their inner sanctums to contaminating incursions from the servants of Capital?

Preach on, brother Campos.

And let’s not forget that all of this “early interviewing” is in response to recessionary pressures and the inability of law schools and law firms to come up with a reasonable system. During the recession, some schools felt like all of the summer associate positions were being “taken up” by schools that started on-campus interviewing over the summer instead of waiting for the fall. So Columbia and others started moving up their programs to compete (kind of like how states have tried to move their primary dates ahead of Iowa and New Hampshire, resulting in the entire election calendar getting pushed up).

There’s no evidence that going “first” actually helps students get Biglaw jobs, but when was the last time a law school needed evidence before asking for more money?

We reached out to Columbia Law and asked them why they made this solicitation. Here’s the heart of their statement:

EIP is just one of many programs that helps students in their search for employment. While the majority of employers are from the private sector, we also host government agencies and not-for-profits at EIP and throughout the year.

While most of the direct cost of the hotel used for EIP is absorbed by the organizations that attend, the main cost to the school for these interviews include full-time counseling staff that prepare our students for EIP, OCI, and other parts of the job search. Our dedicated staff in both Career Services and Social Justice Initiatives spend many hours on programming that helps students prep for interviews, on inviting firms and organizations to attend, and on facilitating the scheduling of interviews.

You can see the complete Columbia statement on the page after the full ad.

Of course, if you want to give to this initiative, it’s your prerogative. I’m not sure that giving money to your law school so it can do this is demonstrably worse than giving money so the school can build new housing for professors or raise a dean’s salary into the mid six figures.

Check out the full ad on the next page. The school really makes it sound like giving a Columbia Law student access to a Biglaw job is like giving a Haitian earthquake survivor access to clean water.

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