The Law School Magazine  ·  Summer 2009 : Features

Career Services Office Proactively Adapts to Better Serve Students

By - Summer 2009
Print | Email

You don’t have to be in the midst of a job search to notice that the economic downturn hasn’t bypassed the legal market.

Times are tough for the law firms, government agencies, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that annually hire entry-level graduates.

But thanks to new initiatives of the Moritz Office of Career Services, Ohio State students continue to land good jobs despite the downturn. Proactive measures taken long before the job market soured have helped educate students and develop more job postings. Alumni who graduated decades ago – as well as those who left the College in the last few years – would find a completely revamped Career Services Office. Counselors are digging deep to find jobs for specific students, making contacts at firms and businesses across the country, and welcoming companies that traditionally did not consider law graduates.

“It’s undeniably a difficult time to be entering the job market,” said Pamela Lombardi, co-director of the College’s Career Services Office. “But our office made strategic changes to strengthen the office even before the recession began, and we constantly seek new ways to expand our services.”

The Downturn

The current job market has presented challenges to the College’s most recent graduates in ways never experienced before. Firms and other employers are taking more drastic measures than in years past. Some firms that extended offers to 2009 graduates have delayed starting dates for several weeks, others for months. Some are offering students stipends, some of which are designed to encourage new graduates to volunteer at public interest agencies while awaiting a delayed full-time start date.

Just as some firms have reduced associate salaries, some recent graduates are receiving calls from firms notifying them that they will start at a lower salary than previously offered.

“This market is like nothing we have ever seen before,” Lombardi said.

According to abovethelaw.com, more than 4,600 attorneys have lost their jobs since the site began tracking law firm layoffs in January 2008. More than 3,700 attorneys nationwide have lost their jobs since January 1, 2009, according to the site.

“Our students are now competing with attorneys who have more experience and are trying to move laterally between firms,” said Linda Jones, co-director of Moritz’s Career Service Office. “These students are no longer just competing with other new graduates.”

In order to help recent graduates gain legal experience, the Ohio State Bar Association, thanks in part to Moritz Professor Nancy Rogers, has started a Public Service Fellows Program. The program places 2009 graduates in Ohio legal services offices where they volunteer 20-30 hours a week and build their legal skills.

“The idea here is to give students as much post-graduation experience as possible and expand their professional networks while providing much needed services to the underserved,” Lombardi said. “The more experience you have the more viable a candidate you are in the job market.”

New Staffing Structure

Despite the downturned economy, graduates from the Moritz College of Law continue to prove successful in landing quality positions following graduation. The class of 2009 has maintained a high at-graduation placement rate. And the class of 2008 reported an employment rate of 98.3 percent nine months after graduation, which was just 0.2 percent off the prior year’s placement rate.

The College’s placement successes are in large part thanks to proactive changes made well before the job market began its slip.

Those changes mixed creativity with expanded services and more personalized attention than ever before. Students have long had the opportunity to meet with career counselors and discuss career ambitions, determine strengths, and browse job postings.

Now, career counselors are tracking every Moritz graduate and providing personalized attention in an unprecedented manner. Career counselors know not only what type of jobs students are searching for, they are helping to find those jobs, helping students tailor resumes and cover letters, and assisting students throughout the hiring process.

The office is also taking steps to find positions with companies and business that haven’t previously considered attorneys, but possibly could. “We have really begun to take a proactive, rather than reactive approach,” Jones said. “If there is a position out there that one of our graduates would be great for, we seek it out.”

The College adopted a new staffing structure in early 2008 that included the addition of two part-time career counselors, each of whom has a law degree and extensive work experience in the legal market. These additions have been invaluable to the office, Lombardi said.

“The addition of Trish (Tweel) and Cheri (Wiles) has allowed us to provide more specialized services and develop jobs,” Lombardi said.

Wiles, who has firm experience in labor and employment law, as well as previous jobs with CourtTV, Super Bowl XXXVII, and the Columbus Blue Jackets, brings a host of contacts throughout the central Ohio region. Tweel practiced law for 15 years and is a volunteer guardian ad litem in the Franklin County Juvenile Court.

The two new additions complete the nine-person office rich in legal job-placement experience. Lombardi brings a human resources background and years of job placement and alumni relations experience in law school administration. Jones previously worked as a director of legal personnel for two New York City law firms, where her responsibilities included hiring summer and permanent associates and managing associate career development and continuing legal education programs.

Cybele Smith, an attorney and the College’s director of public service and public interest programs, brings familiarity with government and nonprofit organizations from her work in the public sector. Smith has been with the office for 11 years and has strong ties to national organizations related to public interest legal work.

Creative Initiatives

Moritz graduated more than 230 J.D. students in May, and members of the Career Services Office know the employment status of each one. Counselors – who each manage a smaller group of students divided by geographic and practice area – regularly meet with students on a one-on-one basis to learn their interests and career aspirations.

The counselors regularly scour web sites and other not-so-common places for job openings that fit students’ preferences. When they find a job posting or a new one is sent to the law school, the counselors post that position for all students and then e-mail it to individuals students whose preferences match the posting.

The addition of Tweel and Wiles enables the office to expand its efforts in identifying new jobs and better research the postings that the College receives.

Wiles routinely investigates new job postings to better learn what traits the firm desires. When a new job posting arrives, Wiles often contacts the employer and requests more information from the hiring partner or human resources representative.

“I normally thank the person for sending the posting and then ask several more questions about the job,” Wiles said. “What are you trying to accomplish with this job? What specific traits are you looking for? I’m trying to get the details that aren’t on the average job posting.”

Wiles also is searching far and wide for corporations, firms, and organizations that may not normally consider hiring law students. She is building relationships with these businesses and educating them about the transferability of skills developed during law school to a host of law-related positions in the private and public sectors.

The office has expanded its programming considerably with more educational and valuable presentations. Last school year, the office partnered with the Office of Academic Affairs to start the “1L Academy,” which included 10 weekly lunchtime presentations, several of which were designed specifically to give beginning law students an overview of the profession. The sessions, which included discussions on everything from large firm practice to nonprofits to the typical hiring practices of each, were well attended.

The Career Services Office also surveyed students in the class of 2009 to learn what additional programming they would find beneficial in their final months at Moritz. The result was an informative panel presented by Moritz alumni that explained the benefits and challenges of starting a solo or small firm practice, options several 2009 graduates showed an interest in pursuing. Panels were also presented on alternative careers, contract, temp, and e-discovery opportunities and how to use online social networking sites effectively in a job search.

Alumni Always Invaluable

The best resource of the Career Services Office is the vast web of Moritz alumni working throughout the world.

“It’s gratifying to see how much our alumni help us find job openings and advocate for the hiring of Moritz graduates in their organizations,” Smith said.

One example of many involves 2009 graduate Melissa Capossela. She decided the summer before her 3L year that she was not interested in working in criminal defense, an area of law in which she had been working during the past 18 months.

“To be honest, I had somewhat begun questioning my decision to go to law school entirely,” she said.

Capossela took Smith up on an offer to chat about her career options. “I explained that I had a passion for indigent defense and that I was very disheartened by the current system,” Capossela said. Smith suggested that Capossela consider a fellowship with Equal Justice Works.

Smith contacted Moritz alumni Gene King ’83, managing attorney of the Ohio Poverty Law Center, and Elizabeth Grieser ’07 and Melissa Will ’06, both of whom were Equal Justice Works Fellows employed with the Ohio State Legal Services Association.

“They helped me through every step of the EJW proposal process,” Caposella said. “The four of us met several times over the next six weeks, and each time they gave me incredibly helpful suggestions and comments. … If it weren’t for Elizabeth, Melissa, and Gene, I would not be an EJW Fellow today.”

Capossela will begin her two-year EJW Fellowship at the Ohio Poverty Law Center in September. There she will work on a project designed to help prisoners reenter society.

“I really enjoy helping out where we can,” said King of the Ohio Poverty Law Center. “And I’m happy to help alumni because we have scores of Moritz students here in the summer as clerks. The quality of work of Moritz students has consistently been high and they are enthusiastic. They are well-rounded, smart, capable, young adults who are nice to be around. It does make me proud.”

And there are countless other success stories similar to this one. A partner at a New York law firm agreed to chat with a 2L about getting into the market. A Chicago associate notifies the Career Services office when a position opens up in her firm. A recent alumna in Washington, D.C., routinely sends information about federal government postings.

“The significance of our alumni giving job tips or helping to get students placed can never be overestimated,” Lombardi said. “Their support is always invaluable, especially in these tough times.”

Tags: , ,