There are two sides to law school career services. One side you meet at conferences and events. The CSO employees you meet in public are smart, earnest people. They care about their students, and they know better than their deans the challenges of the legal job market. They’re pleasing to look at and interested in meaningful reform. You end conversations with them feeling like they’re underpaid.

The other side of CSO is the side you only hear about from the disgruntled students who actually need them. If the student has a job, they say there is one good CSO person in an office beset by lazy morons. If the 3L doesn’t have a job, the whole office is a solitaire-playing, baby-making, incompetent den of secretaries who are contractually obligated to use the word “network” in every single sentence.

I think both sides are true. There are some real CSO gems who work hard, and the law schools like to show these people off. But the system of law school career services is based on legal jobs economy that is gone and never coming back. People are using 2003 skills to contend with the 2013 job market, and it’s failing students all across the country.

It’s failing even students at Ivy League schools, as this story will point out. But I have two simple solutions that law schools could implement for next fall that would significantly improve the performance of law school CSOs….

Today’s amazingly disgruntled 3L goes to the University of Pennsylvania Law School. In fairness to Penn, there are a number of schools where students are totally underwhelmed by their career services officers. But it is a little weird to hear this from a 3L at an Ivy:

Many of the graduating 3Ls from UPenn Law (who have attended other undergrad Ivies and schools such as Stanford and Berkeley) have been upset with the incompetency of UPenn Law’s Career Planning office (I know, it may not sound like news). This school is like a faux Ivy.

Many of us are still unemployed or stuck with undesirable back up jobs, even though we worked for consulting firms, the government, and major corporations before coming to Penn Law. There are still many of us with decent grades who are unemployed. And a lot of us have massive debt.

The Career Planning office at UPenn appears to do little to get job for students who strike out at On Campus Interviewing (or for those who want to work in public interest or government). It does not matter if you are west coast or east coast, the situation is bad all round.

Throughout the year, Penn’s career office will send a “job of the week” job posting email to the 3L class. Yes, that includes ONE job of the week. Other comparable schools (Duke and Harvard) send “job posting[s] of the week,” and there is no reason to limit it to one choice item beyond preserving their ability to be lazy. We know that other school create these lists, because our friends at those schools have been sending them to us.

Many of the UPenn students have resorted to using our friends Symplicity accounts at other school, so we can actually see job postings (because Penn has very little up in terms of jobs on their job site — when compared to other peer institutions).

Does somebody need a professional headhunter?

“Faux Ivy,” that’s tough. Look, any time people don’t have jobs, they are going to be pissed at career services.

At Penn, students mention that the school spent a good amount of money to add an “executive headhunter” to the team. This sounds like a step in the right direction. Our tipster claims that the new headhunter relies heavily on advising people to use LinkedIn, but Penn responded by noting that she just started this past Wednesday.

As to the other concerns, a spokesperson gave the following response:

[A]mong the many other services our careers office provides, they send out a weekly email to students that includes employment-related events, programming, networking opportunities, etc. and as part of this email they feature a “Job of the Week” — an interesting legal job that serves as one example of what employers have available that would be of interest to Penn Law students. That is, it’s meant to encourage our students to login to our jobs database and see that and the many other opportunities listed, as well as encourage them to come in and engage the careers office in their searches. It’s not only wrong it’s absurd to think we’d hold back jobs, especially in this market — and considering the employment successes the vast majority of our recent graduates have had.

All fair points. Last month, U. Penn. topped the list of best law schools for getting a Biglaw job — for the second year in a row. Clearly they’re doing something right over there.

To me, it’s the whole system of career services that needs an update. It’s not about whether Penn is or is not doing what other law schools do; it’s about all law schools revamping what career services is.

Towards that end, I have two modest proposals: (1) the Career Services Office and the Alumni Office should be the same office, with the same information and the same ability to build relationships with alumni, and (2) CSO personnel should be paid on commission based on the number of students they place, just like recruiters. Let’s discuss that in more detail:

The Career/Alumni Office

The people who know exactly where I am, what I do, how much I make, and the chirality of my testicles when it comes time to ask me for money should be the same people who know if I’m hiring. It’s a simple thing. Every law school that separates out the alumni giving and career services offices (which is every law school) is saying that the quest to find money for the school is different from and more important than the quest to find jobs for the school’s students.

The alumni people always have better information, better lists, and better relationships with the networks of alumni who are rich, powerful, and love the school. But aren’t rich and powerful alumni who are full of school spirit exactly the kind of people who are likely to hire recent graduates from their alma mater? In this market, everybody who contacts a school alumnus should be pulling in the same direction. And that direction isn’t just a money ask. It should be, “Brother, can you spare a job?”

Commission = Competition = How Capitalism Works

After 1L year, career services should divide up the class based on the class rank so it’s fair and every officer has a mix of high-achieving students and mouth breathers. Over the next three years (note, this would include one year after graduation), the officers compete to place kids in jobs. At the end, the counselors are graded based on their placement record, student satisfaction surveys, and whatever else the school deems important (e.g, diversity placements, public interest placements, clerkship placements, etc.). Top score gets a huge bonus, bottom score not so much. If you finish in last place for three years in a row, you get fired.

WHY WOULDN’T THIS WORK? CSO officers would be inspired to spend more time on people who could get jobs but need a little help. They’d be incentivized to do outreach to students who hadn’t yet voluntarily come to CSO, and to follow up with students after graduation. They’d be encouraged to actually teach people how to network, instead of saying the word and leaving it at that.

Most importantly, it would hold career services accountable for their efforts. Too many law schools put all the onus of finding employment on students. Too many law schools act like students who don’t find work somehow didn’t try hard enough, without accepting any responsibility for actually teaching kids how to get jobs. Too many law schools allow students to take an endless parade of “Law and Windmill Tilting” courses without anybody being responsible for the professional development of students over their entire time at law schools.

This system would make at least one person in the law school personally accountable if an individual kid doesn’t find employment. What’s wrong with that?

The salad days are not coming back. Outsourcing is a thing now. Clients asking firms to do more with fewer junior people is a thing now. Exorbitant law school tuition is a thing now. We can’t keep using career services tactics based on a world where there were more jobs than there were lawyers to fill them. You’re not going to employ your class if all you do is say to them, “Have you thought about applying here? Oh, you’ve already sent out 100 applications? Well… have you networked?”

The first step is empowering career services officers to become relationship-building professionals, not Symplicity-maintaining secretaries.

Earlier: Best Law Schools for Getting a Biglaw Job (2013)


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