The life of a law school dean.

Law school deans are used to begging. They beg their faculty to assume additional teaching responsibilities. They beg their university presidents to stop slashing their budgets. Mostly, they beg wealthy alumni and community members for money. More money. As much money as they can fix their mouths to ask for. If law school deans could play instruments, they’d be on the subway begging for change.

But in this market, instead of begging alumni for money, law deans really need to be begging their alumni for job openings. Deans should be on the phone every day, talking to people who are in a position to hire graduates of their law schools.

Are law deans doing that? Are law deans taking the responsibility unto themselves to relentlessly push for job opportunities for their students? Beyond New York Times op-eds and grand re-imaginings of the third year curriculum, are law deans digging in and doing the person-to-person work of begging powerful alumni to hire new graduates?

I think some of them are. I know some of them are not. Here, we have one law dean’s letter to alumni that can serve as a kind of blueprint for how a dean should be hawking her students. Maybe you can send it to your dean and ask if she is sending out the same kind of letters…

This letter was sent out by William M. Carter Jr., dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. It’s a plea for Pitt alumni to actively help the school not through financial donations, but with career placement for the Pitt Law students.

The letter is reprinted on the next page, but Carter starts off first by covering his backside a little bit:

As a result of this most recent recession, the employment rate for new law school graduates is at its lowest level nationally since 1994. It is therefore critical that we redouble our efforts on all fronts to assist our graduates in obtaining meaningful employment. (Moreover, unlike many law schools, we have not traditionally hired our own graduates. That means that our actual job placement rates, while admittedly in need of substantial improvement, look worse compared to our peers under US News’s methodology than they actually are, thereby dragging down our overall ranking).

In light of our obligation to be responsive to changing conditions in the market for entry-level attorneys, I made the strategic decision several months ago to substantially decrease the size of this year’s incoming class, in consultation with and the support of the University and the Law School’s faculty. To be clear: Notwithstanding the well-reported national decline in applications, we have far more than enough applicants to fill our seats many times over. We have therefore made this decision not because we have been forced to, but because it is the right thing to do.

Sure it’s voluntary. I actually do believe that Pitt has “more than enough applicants” to fill as many seats as they’d like. But I’d also bet that doing so would murder Pitt’s median LSAT score and cause even further harm to its U.S. News ranking. (We’ll see what happens with GW Law.)

But whatever, if thinking that Pitt lowered its class size because it was “the right thing to do” (was it not also the right thing to do in 2010?) helps people sleep at night, that’s fine. I’m much more interested in the second part of Carter’s email:

The Law School also continues to develop innovative and proactive strategies to create new employment opportunities on behalf of our students and to assist them in successfully competing throughout the recruitment season. Your assistance is critical to the success of these efforts. I ask that you consider the following ways, among others, in which you may help our students…

Carter goes on to list eight ways alumni can help Pitt students get jobs. Eight! You don’t just have to be in a position to give a Pitt student a job. Carter explains that alumni can help by advocating for Pitt students when they notice job openings, by mentoring students, and by helping them with networking and interview practice.

It’s all pretty standard stuff, but schools need to do a better job of integrating alumni into “career services” instead of telling alumni that the only way they can help the school is to endow a professorship or pay for a building.

Of course, a letter like this needs to be followed up with face-to-face meetings and interactions. This letter isn’t the end, it’s the beginning of the process. When Carter meets alumni who are thinking about donating big dollars, he needs to also push them on the jobs front. As I’ve said before, the alumni office and the career services office should be the same office. Law schools should treat alumni giving job opportunities just as valuable as alumni giving cash money.

But that’s the master’s class. The first step, I think, is just to make sure that your law dean is sending out letters like this. Since they’re going to be begging for something, they might as well beg for something that students can actually use.

(Flip to the next page for Dean Carter’s full letter.)


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