While the overall job climate for recent law school graduates has not changed significantly over the past several years, job placement rates of individual law schools have become increasingly important to students and schools alike. Recognizing the need to make significant changes in a soft legal market, the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University continually reexamines its career services operation in an effort to better serve its students and graduates. Through a series of transformative efforts, the College of Law has made substantial strides in better serving both students and graduates with their career development. Data collected this spring by the ABA on all ABA accredited law schools reveals that ASU Law is #19 in the nation (and #5 among public law schools) for successful postgraduate job placement in real lawyer jobs.
How is ASU Law getting its graduates placed when the market nationally remains sluggish?
Different Choices in a Down Economy
As we all remember, in 2008 the economy was hit hard, and graduates in all fields were faced with what analysts deemed a bleak job market. Undaunted, the College of Law seized this challenge as an opportunity for growth and transformation. While many law schools have made cuts in response to economic challenges, the College of Law chose to invest in and revamp their career services team and efforts. As part of this restructure, the scope of the office’s work increased and the Career Strategy and Professional Development Mentoring Center was born. The Career Center counseling staff grew, building a team whose mission is to proactively and creatively assist students and graduates in their job searches in an ever changing and highly competitive market. The result was dramatic. Increasing the staff allowed the office to wholly invest in students’ development and career goals. Counselors were free to provide more significant one-on-one attention to students. Active rather than passive, proactive rather than reactive—that is the ASU Law mantra.
Not only did the Center’s staff expand, but in only one year, the number of workshops, programs, and networking opportunities offered through the Career Center doubled. The Career Center developed new programs on subjects such as networking tips and interview practices and designed informational sessions regarding untapped placement opportunities and non-traditional markets. Students had access to dozens of exciting new opportunities on a monthly basis. One of the more successful events was “Speed Networking”, during which the students had the chance to meet one-on-one with numerous attorneys from various practice areas and firms. The Career Center honed its focus on sponsoring events that stressed quality over quantity, providing the space, time, and access to forge real connections and build personal relationships between current attorneys and law students.
The Path of Innovation Continues - Growing Employer Relationships
While the College of Law’s upward trajectory and the Career Center’s progress was well worth celebrating, there was still work to be done. The next step was to broaden employer and student relationships. Three years ago, the Career Center named a Director of Employer Relations and set course to build stronger ties between employers and the College of Law, to expand the range of jobs available to law graduates, and to develop programs that more easily connected employers to students and graduates.
Programs like the On Campus Interview (OCI) program, which has a tradition of successfully placing students with large firms and corporations, were (and still are) important, but they failed to address the fact that more than 60% of law school graduates are employed by small and mid-sized firms. Increasing access to smaller and mid-size firms, while maintaining successful links to large firms and corporations through programs like OCI, became an essential part of fostering a strong and diverse legal community. The College of Law again deviated from the traditional path, and looked to another section of the legal community—small and mid-sized firms, boutique firms, and firms that exclusively practice in niche areas of the law.
Developing new and innovative programs to meet these needs often took the form of smaller, networking-focused events and employment “fairs”, where firms, companies, and agencies were invited to meet students, who would then build on these relationships. Many new Career Center favorites quickly followed, including “Dine-a-Round” events that allowed small groups of students to interact with a local practitioner in a particular practice area over lunch. The focus on cultivating relationships between law students and firms of all sizes prompted the creation of additional year-round programs like “STEP”, an ASU initiative to provide law firms with students and graduates to take on project and contract work.