Tuesday, November 28, 2006

1L Summer Associate Job Placement and the New Harvard Law School Curriculum

Last week I posted the first installment of my analysis of the new Harvard Law School curriculum's impact on law firm placement. As expected, some were very skeptical about whether what one learns in law school has any impact on elite firm placement.

I completely agree with those skeptics -- I do not believe that law firms are going to care about the actual substantive knowledge HLS students pick up in these new classes. However, the curriculum does a lot more than just change what classes HLS students take during their first year. Most notably, the curriculum changes will change the total # of classes first year students take (and the total # of grades they receive) and move first year fall exams from mid-January to mid-December. This post will discuss the impact of the latter change on the market for first year summer associates.

I. Background & Regulatory Environment

The first year law student summer job search -- both for summer associate positions and all other employment opportunities -- is a highly unstructured and decentralized process. Unlike second year summer employment, most first year students do not obtain their summer jobs through an on-campus recruiting program or any other formal system. Rather, most first year students, particularly those seeking summer associate positions at elite law firms, begin their job hunt by mass mailing their resume and cover letter to dozens—and sometimes hundreds—of law firms in their preferred legal markets.

However, the first year hiring process is not completely unregulated. Nearly all law schools and elite law firms are members of the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), an organization that has promulgated principles and standards for law student recruitment activities. The NALP standards, first adopted in 1978 and modified several times in subsequent years, place a number of important constraints on the first year law student hiring process. Most importantly, the NALP guidelines prohibit first year law students from communicating with any legal employers, including law firms, before December 1. Furthermore, NALP forbids law school career service offices from providing summer job search advice to first year students before November 1.

About 920 first year law students worked as summer associates during the summer of 2005, with 60 percent of NALP law firms having hired at least one first year student for their summer program.

II. The New Curriculum and its Impact on Harvard's Market Status

The NALP standard prohibiting first year law students from applying for summer jobs before December 1 has traditionally given Harvard and Yale students a significant advantage over peer schools. Because virtually all law schools schedule their first year examinations in the middle of December, most first year law students face a trade-off between applying for summer associate positions on December 1—a time consuming process that can take several hours, or even days—and studying for those all-important first year exams. Given the impact first year grades have on second year summer associate hiring, law review membership, judicial clerkship placement, and even entry into law teaching, it should come as no surprise that many law students are not willing to risk receiving lower first year grades for a higher chance of obtaining a first year summer associate position.

But first year students at Harvard Law School and Yale Law School have never had to make this trade-off between first year grades and the first year job search. Harvard and Yale have traditionally scheduled their first year exams in early to mid-January—approximately a month after peer schools such as Stanford and Columbia. Thus, Harvard and Yale first year students can prepare their summer associate job application materials for a December 1 mass mailing, while still having plenty of time to study for their first year exams. Not surprisingly, Harvard and Yale have placed significantly more of their first year students in summer associate positions than their peer schools.

Harvard’s new curriculum may cause Harvard to lose this competitive advantage relative to its peer schools. Once the curriculum changes are fully implemented, Harvard first year exams will no longer take place in January, but will be held in December, consistent with most other law schools. As a result, future Harvard first year students will have to face the same trade-off between exam performance and job placement as their peers at other schools. This will almost certainly cause fewer Harvard students to apply for first year summer associate positions as early as possible, and likely reduce the number of first year Harvard students employed as summer associates.

My next post in this series will address counterarguments and potential mitigating factors.

*Cross-posted at AutoAdmit.com.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just curious what you thought. I would agree that curriculum is not the first motivation of employers for 1L summer associate positions, but I am unsure what is. I attend a little known law school in North Carolina known as NCCU. Though I and my fellow students think of it as being competitive with any law school, I don't think the headhunters would agree. It seems that even though we've attained high rankings each year by various sources, we are rarely one of the schools that any firm sends representation. Representation in any form would do, but preferably the kind that is interested in hiring us, and testing our training.
I do honestly hope that you and everyone gets exactly what they deserve and are looking for, but am almost certain that the name of the school is the first of the grade filters that these businesses are using in their recruiting machines.
Good luck to the other 1L's from schools of lower popularity with the big firms.

12/16/2006 12:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a Harvard IL, I don't know that I would agree with the whole job placement analysis and how the change of exam time will have an effect--for a few reasons. I know very few people who sent out mass letters out to firms, and firms actually are in the process of doing some 1L recruiting now that exams are over. Also, Harvard really encourages first years to do public interest work, and most of the people I know (including myself) are taking advantage of the guaranteed funding to do that this summer. Additionally, since exams aren't until after break (early January) and since other work goes right up until "vacation" (read "study") break, there's not much time to apply to jobs until finals are over.

As far as the job search is concerned, I'd have much rather preferred getting exams over with so that I could focus all of my concentration on that over Christmas. Getting emails from employers responding to resumes in the middle of exams was not pleasant.

In general, as the largest of the "high ranking" law schools, it's not surprising that more Harvard students end up working at large law firms. (In Yale's case, it's consistently ranked no. 1). Students at other schools with exams in December can't apply before Dec. 1, but they can prepare mail merges ahead of time and simply drop them in the mail if they are overly concerned with getting them out on the first day possible. Once the exam schedule changes, Harvard students can do the same if they feel the need to.

1/25/2007 12:12 AM  

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