Thursday, January 26, 2012
An article from the National Law Journal by William A. Chamberlain, Assistant Dean for Career Strategy and Advancement at Northwestern University School of Law.
Following the crash in 2008, large law firms drew criticism for the massive layoffs caused by the recession and, in part, by inflated associates' salaries. In 2011, law schools came under fire for charging excessive tuition, strapping graduates with unmanageable debt and for allegedly publishing incomplete or misleading employment outcomes to lure unsuspecting students.
To be sure, students graduating into this economy have many reasons to be frustrated. Just a few short years ago, jobs in the legal profession were plentiful — although perhaps we remember those times as better than they were. Many students could rely on on-campus interviews, job postings or applying directly to government offices to get their first jobs. Networking, contacting alumni, constant follow-up and frequent lack of response from potential employers were not the norm. Rejection happened, but there always seemed to be another opportunity just around the corner.
But shortly after students from the Class of 2011 enrolled, the traditional sources of jobs had contracted. Job searching today takes more work outside of one's comfort zone — both for students and career services professionals. It is not surprising that law schools, and in particular career offices, have become the lightning rods for this frustration. In good times, telling students that we could not give them jobs — but that we could give them tools to do a successful job search — seemed sufficient; nowadays, this just is not enough.
Beyond the media hype, what is really going on in career offices these days? The vast majority of career counselors genuinely want to help their students find jobs. We are career counselors not for the money or the U.S. News rankings, but because we want to help. The cynic might say that all career offices care about is their U.S. News & World Report employment percentage. While the U.S. News rankings are a challenge we must face each year, each student who graduates without a job — particularly those who are following our advice — is disheartening.
In these challenging times, career offices are under pressure to adopt aspects of the long-discarded mantle of "placement office," to try to place our unemployed students and recent grads. While it is seldom possible to literally "place" anyone, we can expand our advocacy and outreach efforts with potential employers and strive to match individual students or grads with alums and even non-alums in the practice areas and markets in which they are interested. The new economy requires that law schools devote more time, energy and resources than ever before toward outreach with employers. Cultivating and strengthening those relationships is imperative.
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So what . . . is ahead for 2012? With so much uncertainty in the world markets, it is difficult to predict whether entry-level hiring truly has hit bottom, but noticeable increases in the number of employers on campus last fall and in fall recruiting outcomes for the Class of 2013 may signal an increase in employment at graduation for that class. Lateral hiring continues to be on the upswing — an indicator, at least in past cycles, of better things to come in the entry-level market.
Even with high tuition and a contracted job market, the J.D. is still worth having. All sectors of the economy have been hit by the recession, but, in relative terms, getting a law degree still makes a lot of sense. Lawsuits make for good headlines, and law schools have been easy targets in a bad economy. However, attending law school is not, and has never been, a guarantee of an immediate six-figure salary, and it remains the threshold to a worthwhile profession for those who truly want to be there
Read the rest here.