Elie Mystal recently made two smart proposals about how law school career services offices could be improved. Aaron Street provided his take here at Lawyerist a few years back. His ideas were also good ones.
While a few of Aaron suggestions are starting to pop up as reality, sporadically, at some law schools, Elie’s are almost certainly not going to happen at any school. Because law schools still refuse to accept that their fundamental view of themselves is threatening their very existence.
Aaron’s point was that law schools don’t teach students how to do much (if anything) of value in the world where lawyers work. So CSOs could fill in some of the gaps by developing programs teaching essential lawyering skills, particularly those required for recently-minted lawyers who quickly become new solos or small firm attorneys. A fine idea, and a few law schools have in fact announced that they are developing some programs to do this kind of thing. We’ll see where this leads. Schools can inexpensively (i.e., with adjuncts) teach classes on starting a business, legal marketing, billing, and so forth and then claim they are substantively dealing with the employment crisis. They aren’t, because the real problem is way, way too many lawyers for too few jobs. Teaching these skills will make new lawyers more equipped to compete, but it doesn’t address the fundamental problem of suppy and demand.
Could we get some jobs along with the cash?
Elie suggested that, first, the CSO and alumni relations office should be merged, since the first people that students should be hitting up for jobs are alumni. The alumni relations office has access to a network that would be of value to students seeking that first job. It makes perfect sense.
But it won’t happen, for two reasons. First, the people working in alumni relations are fundraisers. In other words, they are salespeople with nothing tangible to sell. This is a specialized type of sales; it’s a bit like selling very high-end automobiles. One doesn’t need a million-dollar Italian supercar when one completely lacks the skills to drive it properly (and when a Corvette ZR1 is just about as fast at one-ninth the price). But the point is, some people want to call attention to themselves.
Giving large sums of money to your law school does the same thing in that sense as driving the Ferrari, except the message you are sending isn’t “look at me—I can afford this car,” it’s “look at me—I’m such a brilliant lawyer that I can afford to get this classroom/scholarship/building named after me,” while pretending it’s a way to thank the school for helping make you awesome.
If there’s one thing people like this don’t want to hear while they are looking at 3-D models of the building that will be named after them, it’s, “oh, and would your firm have any jobs available for our recent graduates? The job market stinks right now.” If the firm needs new associates, there’s already a protocol in place for that. Loyalty has many limits, with money and prestige being #1 and #2 on the list. If there’s a Harvard Law grad willing to work at your firm, you’re not going to toss her aside to make room for some middle-of-the-class dude from the Tier-2 school that you attended.
Law school as trade school? Bah!
Second, Elie suggests a commission-sales approach for CSO staff. If a staffer helps lots of students get work, that staffer gets paid more. If a staffer’s student and alumni “caseload” doesn’t find work, the staffer gets paid less, or gets fired.
This is an idea so pure in its capitalistic approach that it’s hilarious to even imagine it being implemented. This would turn CSO staff from cheerleaders into salespeople as well, but they’d be selling air conditioners at the south pole. To even consider it, a school would have to competely drop the pretense that it is an academic institution that produces legal scholars in favor of the harsh reality that it is a provider of unnecessary lawyers. It would cut to the very heart of the lie that law school professors tell themselves, that they are above the grubby world of clients, fees, and job-hunting, and that they exist on a higher plane of pure academic thought. If they admitted that was not true, and that many of their graduates have their futures ruined by law school, they could no longer justify not only their fat salaries, but, at half the law schools out there, their very jobs.
(image: worry graduate student from Shutterstock)