As summer job offers from major law firms have plummeted for second-year law students, Washington-area law schools are seeking other ways to help students fill the summer hours with useful working experience.
The Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law, for example, provided small and medium-sized law firms with more access to its fall recruiting program. Most smaller firms can’t regularly afford to recruit at major law schools, said Jessica Heywood, director of the career and professional development office.
She said the school also expanded its Students in Public Interest Law Fund by 50 percent to encourage more students to take summer jobs in public policy groups and nonprofits, most of which only offer unpaid positions. The fund pays stipends to students who takes these unpaid internships.
For many of the students, the prospect of taking unpaid summer positions – and having future careers outside of Am Law 100 firms – is a grudgingly accepted reality.
“Every law student thinks that when they enter law school, they will get to go to a large law firm. It is no longer a guarantee,” Heywood said. “That’s a hard change to go along with because of the salary difference. They’ve had to recalibrate their expectations.”
According to the National Association for Law Placement, the median number of offers by U.S. law firms for 2010 summer associate positions is seven, the lowest figure in the 17 years the organization has tracked the statistic. In 2007, the median number was 15. More than half of the law schools reporting saw a drop of 30% or more in the number of employers coming to their campuses in 2009.
Carole Montgomery, director of the career development office at George Washington University Law School, said D.C.-area law schools have been less affected by the drop in summer associate slots than other schools around the nation because of the proximity to the federal government and its opportunities for summer positions.
“Working in the federal government is a great way to wait for the market for large firms to pick up,” she said. Montgomery noted that about 60 percent of GW law students find work in the D.C. area during the summer.
The drop in summer associate offers has had little impact at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law because the school has always focused on sending students to federal government and public policy positions instead of big law firms, said Dena Bauman, director of career services.
However, she has noticed a downturn in offers from some of the school’s traditional sources for summer jobs, such as the Maryland and Virginia state governments, both of which slowed hiring in recent years.
LuEllen Conti, director of career services at Howard University School of Law, said her school now works harder to find summer positions for students interested in using their legal knowledge but not pursuing legal careers. She highlighted financial and business-oriented positions as areas of particular interest.
As Conti sees it, the increased competition could pay dividends down the road. “Students are more furious now,” she said. “They have a sense they will have to work hard if they are going to find a good job.”