American Lawyer, How the Recession Forced Law Schools to Reimagine Their Role in Students' Careers:
The number of entry-level legal jobs fell more than 23% between 2007 and 2018. Entry-level associate hiring by law firms plunged 40% in 2009 alone and has yet to return to its prerecession level. Big Law—and the elite schools that send graduates to those large firms—were hit the hardest. But the recession created a trickle-down phenomenon that touched regional, mid-tier and lower-tier schools as well. ...
Law schools had weathered economic downturns before, but the scope of the 2008 recession presented new challenges. More law students and graduates than ever were seeking work, and the speed at which law firms shed jobs and rolled back hiring was staggering.
The impact of the recession was keenly felt for at least three years. Many members of the classes that graduated in 2008 and 2009 saw their permanent associate job offers deferred or rescinded, meaning they could not start their firm jobs for a year or more after expected, if at all. Meanwhile, the class of 2010 was in the middle of the 2008 summer associate on-campus recruiting process when the bottom fell out of the economy. Schools on the tail end of the interview season were left out in the cold.
At Harvard Law School, which in 2008 held its interview program in October, about one-third of scheduled recruiters canceled before ever setting foot on campus that year, Mark Weber, assistant dean for career services, says. ...
While 2008 and 2009 were chaotic, it was the law classes of 2010 and 2011 that had the worst of it, according to many in career services. The widespread hiring deferrals of the previous two years meant firms had little capacity for new hires. “The best way to think about it is with an airline when your flight gets canceled,” Weber says. “It’s sunny the next day, but you can’t get out of the airport because they’re working through all the backlog. That’s what happened. Expectations had to be managed a little bit, and students had to cast a wider net.”
Career services offices were forced to think outside the box to find ways to help graduates and students whose career plans were upended. They encouraged legal departments, government and public interest employers to temporarily take on deferred associates while they waited to start their firm jobs. They asked alumni to help students find work. They created website portals for deferred and laid-off associates. They reached out to alumni at firms undergoing layoffs to check their status and offer support.
But schools weren’t initially staffed to handle the sudden volume of alumni who were returning to campus asking for career help, as they traditionally focus on entry-level employment. They were forced to quickly ramp up their career support offerings for alumni. A number of schools, including Harvard and Northwestern, have since hired a dedicated, full-time staff person to assist alumni. ...
The recession was also the catalyst for the rise of so-called school-funded jobs, in which schools themselves funded temporary positions for their graduates. Most of the jobs were legal in nature, though not all, sparking criticism of the practice. In 2011, nearly 5% of entry-level law jobs were funded by schools. That figure has since fallen below 2%. Still, more schools today offer public interest fellowships, in part because those opportunities, born of the recession, proved popular. The practice of judges hiring clerks with one or two years of experience also accelerated as a result of the recession, Weber notes, as clerkships became a refuge for some deferred or laid-off attorneys at the time.