Monday, August 04, 2008

Law Firm Summer Programs

Bruce McEwan talks about some of the underlying problems of summer associate programs at top American Law firms. While some of the problems are real, here is another.

They are not conducive to two categories for law students, evening division law students (those going to school at night while holding other jobs) and older law students (i.e. those moving into a second career or having families). In my case, both apply to me.

Now, don't get me wrong, I understand the recruiting process and am fully cognizant of the advantages and disadvantages of the process. But let's also be clear, the typical summer associate program's social environment, outside of the actual work, is premised on the notion that the participants will be 23, 24, 25 years old, single or at the very least married without kids.

But in my case, while I didn't participate in the "typical summer program" I am not sure I would have been welcomed. First, my oldest daughter was born in my first year of law school and it was hard enough to spend the acadmic year not seeing her in an awake state between Sunday night and Friday evening. It would be hard to justify not seeing her to attend some after party at some pub after working long hours to begin with, so I would likely be labeled as not very fun despite my actual work efforts.

Even if I had not children and a wife who would have indulged my "need" to attend such parties, at age 31, which was my age when I started law school, I had long passed my "party days" and would not have enjoyed the party nights.

Now most law firms will tell you, we don't do that sort of thing, but let's be honest, it is a winked upon subterfuge, since as McEwan noted, the more summers that attend an after party, the easier it is for the department to justify the "after-party" bar tab.

The educational and career development aspects of a summer associateship are important and worthy goals. However, I would argue that the summer program, which has so much influence over big law hiring, is a poor program indeed for finding the best working lawyers.

I will tell you right now, that when it comes to my future as a hiring lawyer, all things being equal between two candidates, I will take the one who went to evening division law school every day and twice on Sunday. Given the relative balance in some matters, I will probably take the evening division student from a "lower ranked" school over a regular student at a "higher ranked" school. Why, because for my money and that of my firm, I stand a better chance of getting a working lawyer, who knows how to budget time, effort and resources.

But summer programs are conducive to evening division students for the most part, for one reason: At the end of the summer, that student will have to find another job.

Follow me on this one. Bright and dedicated evening division law students holds down a regular job somewhere while attending law school--for whatever reason, largely economic. To take a summer associate position for 10-12 weeks, law student must either 1) quit regular job or in the best scenario negotiate a way to come back after 10-12 weeks. It would take a magnimous employer at best to do the latter, particular when said employer knows that the law student will be gone in a year or two anyway. So, the law student must decide, do I take the summer associate job, which will probably lead to a job offer post law school and then spend half the summer looking for a regular job when school starts back up, or do I forgo the summer experiernce.

In my case, I had to essentially forgo the summer experience. I could neither afford to lose my regular job or the benefits that came with it for a three month job. I tried to make a federal job work, but the some conflicts came up and it didn't work out.

The issue of summering occupies students attention to a disproportionate sense and inflates expectations beyond the problem McEwan points out. But the problem that an entire class of students struggles with the problems of even taking a summer position, let alone dealing with pitfalls, means that law school education and firm hiring needs to be reexamined.

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