Today NALP released its job report for the class of 2009. You can read the full report here. As you would expect, the report outlines some of the challenges in the legal employment market. One thing that did stand out is the increase in the number of law schools who are hiring back their graduates for temporary jobs (42% of law schools hired back graduates for on campus jobs and 25% of all reported jobs were “temporary”). That raises some interesting questions. Why are schools doing this? Is it for the benefit of the graduate or the school?
Schools who are hiring their graduates for meaningful work that helps their graduates’ professional development are doing it for the right reason. Many schools have fellowship programs that help a new graduate get experience, build a network, and provide meaningful service either at the school or in under served populations. In those cases one would anticipate that someone at the school is also mentoring the new lawyer to make sure he is learning as much as possible. We have some of those fellowships here at UST Law. As one would expect, when the fellowship is structured to really help the graduate’s development they are highly prized and sought after. If most of these new jobs fit that profile then perhaps this is a positive evolution in legal education, an acceptance of our responsibility to help graduates towards professional success, not simply give them a degree.
My concern, however, is that some school are doing this simply to bolster their own U.S. News rankings. Nine month employment statistics are a part of the school’s rankings. These types of temporary jobs are ripe for abuse if a school is creating busy work that lasts just long enough to report high employment figures. In that circumstance there is little investment in the graduate and little help advancing his professional development. That situation both unhelpful to the graduate (other than the short term pay check) and can breed some of the cynicism about the profession that appears in legal blogs these days.
So, as schools evaluate how their employment statistics match up with the NALP report let’s hope everyone is taking a big picture view of the stats. Getting graduates a job is good but getting them the right job is really what this is all about. And, from my perspective getting the right job will always have some component of mentoring and professional development for the new lawyer.