How Employer Outreach is Helping Law Schools Land Jobs for Their Graduates
“If you build it, they will come.”
That axiom may have attracted baseball ghosts to an Iowa cornfield, but it won’t draw employers to law students.
It wasn’t long ago when firms were battling to hire the top law grads: young, cheap, ambitious, and deeply in debt. That makes for employees who’ll work 80 hours a week without complaining.
Now, the market is saturated with law grads. While the grads haven’t changed, their job prospects have taken a major hit.
Blame the economy. Blame bloated enrollments. Blame technology, too. The fact is, firms aren’t motivated to hire new graduates, especially from second- and third-tier schools.
That’s why law schools like Case Western, Brooklyn, Golden Gate, and John Marshall are using employer outreach to give their students an advantage.
You’ll find outreach directors under a variety of titles, but they all have one responsibility: build relationships with potential employers. Take Case Western Reserve, for example. They’ve adopted a national approach, according to Donna Davis, assistant dean of career development. Davis tells The National Law Review that the school polls students on their preferred practice areas and locations. From there, Davis’ team makes over 140 outreach visits, ranging from small dinners to alumni receptions. “In the past, you did some employer outreach, mostly locally,” Davis says. “Every now and then, you would go somewhere regionally. But now we go to California, New York, Boston, Chicago, and Texas. We’re covering the country, and I think that’s really different from five years ago.”
Way different, says Chris Smith, assistant dean for career services at Elon University School of Law. And it has changed by design. “Legal recruiting shifted with the recession,” Smith explains. “The traditional model of law schools being able to depend on alumni, for example, to generate recruiting activity, changed. Law schools recognized that they needed to be more proactive in going out and creating and reinforcing recruiting relationships with legal employers of various types.”
While many employers are hesitant to add externs, they often find their work invaluable once they’re onboard. That was the experience of Thomas Carpenter, general counsel for the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Six years ago, he met with Jill Backer, associate director of employer relations at Brooklyn Law School, who convinced him to give a law student a break. Since then, he has added two Brooklyn Law students full-time. “I was hesitant about taking on someone on a regular basis,” Carpenter says. “But talking it through with Jill helped me think about the ways I could bring on a law student who would help me, and how I could manage that student and make sure they had a good experience.”
And it’s not only employers who benefit from Brooklyn Law’s outreach. Wendy LaManque, a Brooklyn Law grad, externed for Carpenter twice, which helped her land a job at a labor law firm. “Labor law is a small community…and it takes people like [Backer] to be excited, reach out to employers, and make it happen.” Recent grads can also take advantage of this service. Nello Gamberdino, who joined Chicago’s John Marshall Law School as the employer outreach coordinator in 2012, has already helped over 100 alumni land jobs, externships, and other opportunities.
So what does it take to maintain a successful outreach program? Backer notes that outside relationships “require continual maintenance—phone calls, emails, meetings, invitations to speak on campus.” She has to regularly check in to ensure that her clients benefit from her students’ work. She also targets the right organizations for students, which may mean smaller firms and government offices for lower-tier schools. Even more, Backer studies emerging business trends to position students for the right opportunities. For example, Brooklyn Law observed that finding graduates adept at legal compliance was growing increasingly important to in-house counsel. Thanks to developing curriculum in that area, Brooklyn Law now has over a dozen students employed in American Express’ compliance department.
Although over two dozen schools employ outreach directors, this isn’t the only successful model. The Golden Gate University School of Law views outreach as everyone’s job. “It’s really a school-wide effort, from the dean on down,” Associate Dean Susanne Aronowitz says. “We’ve taken the approach of embedding it throughout the program, so it’s not only the responsibility of [the career and alumni services] office. We have a lot of lot of faculty who come to us with prior practice experience and a core of adjuncts who are still in practice, so we tap into that.”
Yes, times have changed. It might take a team effort to train a future lawyer, but today, the responsibility doesn’t end there. Now, that same team has to help her land her first job, too.
Source: National Law Journal