Office of Career Services

Ed. note: This is the latest post by Anonymous Recruitment Director, who will offer an insider’s perspective on the world of law firm hiring.

Law students love to bash the staff of their law school’s career services office. Students often roll their eyes as they describe a staff, usually all female, most with law degrees, who have allegedly traded in the law firm life for a 9-to-5 job. The students often comment that the staff does nothing to help the students secure jobs. Well, I wish to share with you a harsh reality that your law school counselors may not be able to impart directly.

When a student presents to the career services office at law school for a résumé review, there is very little that the counselors can do at that point. The counselors can, of course, suggest the reordering of text and/or tighten certain job descriptions. But YOU are the one who has made certain professional choices, and the staff cannot rewrite your history. A résumé is impressive not because it is well-written; a résumé is impressive because it demonstrates curiosity, risk-taking, and a desire for depth of experience.

So what is my main advice about résumés?

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Law schools believe that if you start making people give to your program early, you increase the chances of turning them into lifelong alumni donors. That’s why schools try to start their alumni giving campaigns while students are still on campus. It’s not that your law school thinks they’ll make a lot of money off of graduating 3Ls. But they believe that a $20 pledge while students are on campus is the gateway drug to a $200,000 donation in twenty years.

It all makes a lot of sense for the law school, but what do the graduating students get out of it? A lot of students will be paying off their law school tuition for decades, and many will have to start making those repayments before they get a good legal job. Law schools spend money on a slick alumni giving team, with the law school dean serving in the role of “fundraiser-in-chief.” But 3Ls need their schools to focus on “job-raising” instead of fundraising.

To the extent that 3L giving is a reflection of the services rendered by the law school over three years of expensive education, you’d expect a lot of law schools to get squat out of their 3L giving campaigns. That is exactly what one law student is suggesting to his fellow classmates.

The fun thing is that this 3L is on the committee for 3L fundraising…

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Career services is a tough racket in this market. The employers are blowing you off, the school is riding you to boost their rankings, and the students are coming to grips with the gravity of their mistake and are getting increasingly panicked about their prospects.

And this pressure is much worse when you’re running career services for a school below that T14 level.

But sympathizing with career services does not extend to forgiving a ridiculous stunt like this. There are a lot of ways to spend money to help students get jobs. Career services decided to skip that step…

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Why don’t your CSO officers look like this?

The official NALP numbers are out for the class of 2012, and they stink. We’ve known for a while that they were going to stink, but the final numbers stink slightly more than we thought they were going to stink.

While we had been hoping that entry-level hiring would be slightly up for the class of 2012 over the class of 2011, it’s actually slightly down. The overall employment rate for new law school graduates fell to 84.7%. It’s the fifth consecutive year that figure has fallen. The last time the numbers were this low was in the aftermath of the 1990-1991 recession. Things stink.

You don’t have to tell the class of 2012 that their hiring stinks; they’ve been living in it for over a year now. And you don’t have to tell the class of 2013 that their prospects aren’t much better; they’re out of school now, they know. Rising 3Ls in the class of 2014 might be deluding themselves that everything is going to be sunshine and roses for their class, but if they aren’t busy securing jobs this summer, they’ll learn what bitterness and failure taste like soon enough.

In fact, the only people who seem to need to be told that hiring is REALLY, REALLY BAD are American law schools, who continue to make statements and push programs as if getting a job in this market happens in a classroom instead of on a telephone or at a networking event…

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Banks need panic buttons. Jodie Foster needs a panic room. I only panic when it’s nine in the afternoon. But the thought that American law schools should have a panic button in their career services office didn’t occur to me until I attended the NALP panel on spotting mental health issue in the law school community.

The panel consisted of Hanna Stotland, a career and admissions consultant; Dr. Nada Stotland, Professor of Psychiatry at Rush University Medical Center; and William Chamberlain, Director of Career Services at DePaul Law School.

I thought I was in for a touchy-feely hour about how it’s wrong to exclude the awkward gunner in the front row from all the reindeer games. Instead it was a sobering medical breakdown of the mental illnesses that afflict 20 percent of law students — and what career services officers can do to help stop people from literally killing themselves, which happens at way more law schools than I realized.

And yeah, your CSO should probably get a panic button installed if it doesn’t have one already….

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Hello again from the 2013 annual education conference of the Association for Legal Career Professionals (aka NALP). People here are very friendly — although, as noted earlier, the law firm folks tend to be more welcoming to us than the law school crew.

That’s to be expected, given our sometimes critical coverage of law schools. We seek to promote consumer awareness when it comes to legal education, but some schools — especially those schools with weaker job outcomes for their graduates — perceive this as an attack.

Yesterday I attended a NALP panel discussion about law school transparency. In the course of discussing what we talk about when we talk about transparency, the panelists provided five defenses that law schools can use when faced with criticism over unemployed or underemployed graduates….

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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….

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A couple weeks ago, we shared with you some of our survey data, which showed that, generally speaking, law students’ experiences with their schools degrade over time. The ATL Insider Survey asks law students and alumni to rate their schools in the areas of academic instruction, career counseling, financial aid advising, practical/clinical training, and social life. When the ratings by first-year students are compared with those of third-years, the 3L scores are lower across the board, in all categories. In other words, the longer students are exposed to their schools, the lower their regard for the institution becomes. More equals worse.

We wondered whether or how this downward trajectory manifests itself after the students become alumni. After the jump, we compare the perceptions of students to those of graduates. The answer may surprise you, but probably not. Also, we identify the law schools where there is the greatest contrast between the views of current students and alumni — both negatively and positively….

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So I’ve quit my job at Debevoise and I’ve spent six glorious months on my couch. Life is good. My wife is making money and paying the bills; my new dog has become a wonderful friend (first Monday of my Biglaw liberation I went to the ASPCA). My Michigan college football dynasty is undefeated in EA College Football (I root for Michigan sports, long story).

But I know it can’t last. I know eventually I’ll have to get a real job (ish). And I know that I don’t want to go back to doing what I had been doing, so I make what seems to me to be the most logical call in the universe: the Career Services Office at Harvard Law School. Remember, these were the people who told me that I could do all sorts of things with a law degree besides the Biglaw thing that most people did with law degrees. This was the school that owned all my outstanding debts. These were the people, if any, who could help me in my time of professional ennui.

And they did. After emailing and calling in and setting up a phone appointment, I was talking not to some receptionist flunky, but the full-on Dean for Career Services, Mark Weber. And he tried to help. Turned out I really had no clue what I wanted to do next, so much of his advice was basic stuff like “we have lots of successful alumni, you should call them.” The point is that I felt like my law school still cared about my career and still had resources to help me, years after I graduated.

Of course, that was back during the salad days at Harvard Law. Apparently, things are very different during these challenging times at NYU Law School. A recent grad there emailed his career services office looking for help, and was told pretty clearly that nobody had time to assist him.

See, our guy had one job, and it would seem NYU Law is in some kind of triage mode…

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