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)


  1. Syrinx says:

    Refreshingly honest. Sent the article link to a friend who works in Career Services … not that it will make any difference. I think the only answer is to let the law school bubble burst.

    If I could do it all over again, I think I’d be an electrician or a plumber.

  2. Susan Gainen says:

    A good subject to re-visit.

    1. Combining career services and alumni relations is a good idea for the reasons stated above, and a lot more that I don’t have time to go into right now. Note please, the difference between alumni relations and development. It is the development staff that asks for money.
    2. Some law schools are beginning to implement a more skills and clinic-focused programs. Expensive, because of the high student-to-professional ratio and unsettling to doctrinal faculty who rule the roost and may not have a deep and abiding commitment to training law students to practice law.

    3. Career services professionals as headhunters: An interesting (in the true Minnesota sense of the word) concept. In most law schools, the student-to-professional ratio in career services is more than 150 to 1, and sometimes it is far greater. Contact your law school and do the math. Do not count support staff in the calculation.

    As we all know, outside the law school, headhunters get paid handsomely to fill their clients’ needs, and the clients are the employers who pay their fees. How compensating CSOs for placement would or could increase the class’s employment puzzles me.

    Nothing in the world of legal employment would change: with no increase in employers seeking to hire entry-level attorneys, the students with (depending on the employer) the best grades, the best professional presentations, the best articulated and demonstrated entrepreneurial spirit, the best set of practical skills, the best pre-or-post JD specialty training, or the deepest commitment to a particular kind of public sector work would still get hired.

    How would fee-paid recruiting work in a world with a candidate load of 150 (or, in my case when I started in career services, 810), where no employers pay anyone for entry level recruiting?

    If you imagine that CSOs would work harder if they were paid by-the-candidate instead of in annual salaries, you misunderstand the work that they do and the commitment that they have to their students.

    If you haven’t spent more than 20 minutes with your CSO and haven’t asked serious questions about what he or she does or is capable of doing within the resources and staffing available to the office, please have the conversation.

    Have lots of these conversations. CSOs are always willing to listen to and learn from students and alumni who are willing to give constructive criticism (and praise, oh yes, they get praise, too) to make their offices work better and to get better results for their students and alumni.

  3. Matt Moore says:

    Andy, agree that law schools need to do more to educate new lawyers about business. I do not have any solid research, but I am pretty sure about 98% of all jobs have something to do with business, even if that business is your own law firm. The basics of business economics, branding, and real life corporate decision making would be a good start. I was fortunate, I couldn’t get a summer law firm clerkship so I worked in warehouses. Now I am General Counsel for a distribution company. But I didn’t know jack about business when I first started and never saw the need. All that capitalism – yucky!
    Last – when are you going to shine that critical light of yours on financing contracts? After IT agreements, they are the most impenetrable and one-sided documents that cross my desk.

    • Your story is a great example of how lawyers find or make their own opportunities. How to impress a potential employer? Go work there during law school . . . and the employer need not be a law firm, just an organization that needs a lawyer.
      And I think you should guest post here on Lawyerist about how you’d fix financing contracts. You are the expert. I’d be interested in reading that post.

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