In “Where Law School Career Services Fail (and Some Fixes),” Aaron mixes excellent suggestions with some incorrect assumptions. I wish that his transformative goals for law schools could be readily achieved, that his assumptions were correct and workable, and that the powers he ascribes to career offices were real.

Career services occupies an odd space among employers and alumni who are savvy about what students will need to become smart professionals, law students and their parents who want jobs right now, and deans who want employed alumni.

Because the admissions office does not screen for the entrepreneurial spirit, students are admitted with vastly different skills, interests, and intent, including those who have not yet decided to become lawyers. Unlike lawyers who get to select their clients, astonishingly understaffed (300:1) career service offices serve all comers after November of the first year of law school.

Career services ought to teach

In my 17 years at Minnesota, the career office sponsored more than 1,100 programs featuring alumni speakers. Most were sorry to have given short shrift to legal writing, and equally sorry to have ignored alumni who urged them to acquire business skills. They nearly always pointed out that students would be in charge of their own careers.

Had it been available, most would have endorsed the “Lawyerist List of Key Career Skills” (marketing, branding, business development, client service, pricing and professional services delivery, business-model innovation, and small business/solo start-up tools). But, hindsight is always 20/20, and they were delivering a message that was hard to hear.

To be effective, branding and entrepreneurship must be part of a law school’s DNA and be mandatory. Career services has limited power and influence. Law faculty are notoriously unpractical, and only the most motivated deans are likely to be eager to change the fundamental characters of their schools.

Smart career development is hard. It is easy to submit a resume for an electronic job listing. The real work of career planning is personal and time consuming. It earns no grade. It competes with course credits, journals, moot courts, mock trials, clinics, paid and unpaid employment, and with students’ need to sleep and eat. Aaron’s estimable recommendations for coaching and vectoring toward innovative business opportunities may not be timely for 2Ls who have missed the “legal market has changed” message or who have no interest in any aspect of business.

Knocking career offices for spending “zero time focusing on creating career-savvy legal professionals” has its limits. Leaving aside just how closely the programs and services of nearly 200 ABA accredited law schools were studied, this position is disrespectful to the choices that students are free to make that don’t fall within the “Lawyerist List of Key Career Skills”. Not every student is ready to embrace the entrepreneurial life, and for many, despite looming loans, law school is a place to hide. I know that career offices have been inserting practical skills concepts into their schedules for more than a decade. Leading horses to water has never been a reliable way to make them drink.

The complication of alternative career paths

The earnest recommendation that career offices generate alternative career opportunities misses the point that most alternative career searches are complicated and unique. Recruiters evaluate “yield.” Managers would question their judgment if they spent time and money at law schools to find one qualified applicant in five years, when they could see dozens at a school that trains for their occupation, and where they could connect immediately with a large qualified alumni applicant pool.

Similarly, a dean would question the use of scarce resources if the office attempted to gin up scores of non-legal positions for which few law students would be qualified, and even fewer would have interest. An alternative career search is hard. What is an alternative career for a lawyer is someone else’s traditional career, so there is no law school OCI, and the jobs are posted where the other professionals look for work.

I agree that in today’s economy, more students may be interested in the “Lawyerist List of Key Career Skills” then in the recent past. I hope so. But converting “interest” into a real entrepreneurial spirit, active networking, and skill development requires students’ time, energy, and commitment. While they serve as teachers and cheerleaders for students and alumni, career services professionals do not have the power to make people engage in these activities.

What do prospective students want from career services?

However, in this economy, law school applications are increasing exponentially, and I would be very curious to know what prospective students expect from law school. Are they coming to avoid the worst of the economy, or do they have practical plans for becoming lawyers in the new economy—whatever that is?

(photo: toffehoff)