The Boston Globe today runs a story by Rich Barlow about a number of luckier law graduates at large firms being paid a decent salary to defer their job a year to perform public service.
With his degree from Harvard Law School due in June, Juan Valdivieso makes an attractive prospective hire, and last summer, he scooped up a postgraduation job offer from the white-shoe firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius in his native Washington, D.C.I love the fact that Barlow includes a Suffolk student who got a similar deal in the article following his lead with the Harvard student! I am pretty sure there are more Harvard students getting these deals than Suffolk students. The article is excellent and goes on to discuss how common this is becoming for the lucky few students and firms. There is some discussion of the various options offered to students, as some firms provide a list of approved public service placements. What I found truly fascinating was the comments that follow. These range from frankly envious, to depressed as some students seeking public service placements in the first place see the few jobs they might have had dry up as the financially strapped legal services see opportunities for free placements. There is irony, pathos, and wit in the comments, along with a dollop of self-pity. This is a very tough time to be graduating from law school if you are not already employed or independently wealthy.
But as the recession deepens, budgets tighten - even at top-notch law firms. Morgan, Lewis & Bockius e-mailed Valdivieso last month that it would have to defer his employment for a year, until the fall of 2010. But the company threw him a lifeline: It would pay him a $60,000 stipend if he spent the year after graduation at an unpaid public service job. The 28-year-old is looking for work in an organization that will indulge his interest either in civil rights or consumer protection.
Paying people to offer help to public service groups may be a noble endeavor, but it also reaps a practical payoff.
The stipend system saves a bundle for such firms as Morgan, Lewis, where starting salaries average around $160,000, according to Harvard's assistant dean for career services, Mark Weber. It also allows them to hold onto promising future lawyers until a possible economic turnaround next year.
Meanwhile, students add a year of real-life work.
"Clients are, from what I understand, not so excited about having first-year associates without any actual experience working on their case," said Valdivieso.
Alyssa Minsky, who is graduating next month from Suffolk University Law School, has had her employment deferred with a stipend by Ropes & Gray. A psychology major in college with an interest in healthcare, she is interviewing for jobs in that field.
"I really do think it's a great opportunity," she said. "I hope to do healthcare law at the firm, so I think I'll have real exposure to healthcare issues."
Law firms have postponed hires in previous recessions, but the public-service stipends are unique, say Weber and James Leipold, executive director of the National Association for Law Placement, a career counseling, recruitment, and development group based in Washington, D.C.