Job Searches, Law Schools

Should Law Schools Put More Money Into Career Services?

If we want career service gurus, we're going to have to pay for them.

I think we’ve established that law schools, as currently constructed, are terrible at helping their students find jobs and preparing students to practice law. If you think otherwise, you likely are on the payroll of a law school and are skilled in the arts of self-delusion.

Is there anything law schools can do to make themselves actually useful to their students?

One suggestion is for law schools to put more money in career services. Most law schools lack skilled and robust career services offices, but you could argue that the dean of the career services office is vastly more important to students than their Con Law professor.

A law school is trying to dump money into their career services office and make career development part of the 1L curriculum. Sounds like a step in the right direction, right? Well, professor Paul Campos doesn’t think so….

Campos highlighted some moves made by the University of Oregon Law School. Oregon is reorganizing its career services office and creating a 1L course to get students to focus on career development. Here’s how Oregon explains the class:

This class offers every student early exposure to professional opportunities, expectations, and responsibilities; connections with experienced professionals; and one-on-one attention from a career counselor focused on helping each student identify individualized goals and strategies. The course will serve as a foundation for the Career Center’s ongoing work with each student and will help students develop the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful in a highly competitive job market.

You can see the full Oregon Law email announcing all their changes on the next page.

Good stuff? Maybe other law schools should follow the Oregon model?

That would be bad, according to Paul Campos:

Although it’s nice that lots of respectable law schools are finally beginning to understand that their graduates really aren’t getting jobs, this sort of response deflects attention from why that’s the case (because there aren’t enough jobs) by engaging in a combination of expensive and largely useless gestures and implicit victim-blaming.

If there’s one proposition on which almost all law students and law graduates seem to agree it’s that career development offices are a huge waste of money. Students and grads complain bitterly that their particular law school’s CDO is unusually incompetent, but this is in most cases probably a misperception. The baseline level of competence for the typical law school CDO seems to be very low, because law schools, as is their wont in regard to almost everything, tend to hire people who have no particular expertise or training in what they’re expected to do, but rather are washed out lawyers. (This hiring pattern, ironically enough, is apparently based on the assumption that a law degree is Versatile, and mysteriously prepares you for all sorts of careers besides being a lawyer.)

Well, I’ll engage in some explicit victim blaming. Law students are notoriously poor networkers. They’re awful at it; one of the reasons they ended up in law school instead of business school is because they were bad at networking. I’m not sure that the Oregon program is going to be doing it the right way, but if you could start teaching networking and other business skills to 1Ls right along with their Civ Pro and Property courses, it wouldn’t hurt.

While many law students do everything they can to get a job, but still don’t end up with one (because Campos is absolutely right that there are more law grads than there are high-paying jobs to absorb them), we can’t just ignore the students who are not taking a proactive and entrepreneurial approach to their own careers — or at least don’t start thinking outside the box until they are a second semester 3L. Every career services officer in the country has a story about a kid coming into their office for the first time in three years and saying “get me a job.” Students need to be reminded and encouraged to start looking for work as soon as they show up on campus. The diligent career services office will have training and connections for students to take advantage of from the fall of 1L year through years after graduation.

But Campos is right that simply throwing more money at CSO won’t work if law schools hire in the silly way they fill most of their available positions. Career services officers can’t be “washed out lawyers” or highly effective secretaries.

I think career services officers need to be some of the best recruiting professionals in the country, which means that they need to be paid a lot of money to work for law schools instead of their own private firms. I’ve said before that CSO deans should be one of the highest paid positions on campus. You need to attract innovative people who are skilled at training job seekers as well as having connections throughout their legal community and the nation.

There are not enough high-paying jobs for the lawyers who want them. That’s a fact. The best career offices will not only get their students more than their fair share of those jobs, they’ll also be prepared to help the masses who made a financial mistake by coming to law school find their way into gainful employment and a road to recovery. CSO needs to include debt counseling, mid-career transitioning, continuing education options, and their networks need to be national (or international) to help students move to secondary or tertiary markets in search of paying work of any kind. And that’s far from an exhaustive list.

All of that needs to be brought to bear on students the minute they show up on campus. Career services should cost law schools a ton of money. And it would if U.S. News gave a crap about graduate outcomes instead of student inputs. Sure, law school CSO seems incompetent and useless now, but that’s because law schools are focused on bringing in high-priced faculty instead of high-priced job hunters. CSO doesn’t have to be like it is.

But, as they say on the Wire, cases have to go green before they go black.

Look at the Oregon plan. It’s not perfect, it’s not enough. But should we do more of this or less?

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