You know the law job market is sputtering when you hear that the career planning folks at HLS are scrambling. In his February 24 student town hall meeting, soon-to-be Interim Dean Howell Jackson reported that the law school is implementing new career planning policies for next fall. According to the Harvard Law Record:
Among the other changes Jackson highlighted was the new early interviewing program, beginning a week before schools starts, unveiled in response to earlier concerns that HLS' on campus interviews came too late in the hiring season for Harvard students to effectively compete for jobs. While late interviews have not been a problem for schools like Harvard and Yale in the past, many students struggled to secure summer placements in 2008 as firms cut down their summer intakes in the wake of the financial crisis, which came to the fore in September. Students at schools like Columbia, who had interviewed in August, were generally safer, although firms have taken the unusual step this year of rescinding some offers. The crisis begged the question of whether earlier interviews would return Harvard to previous levels of success, or merely ensure that it did not fall further behind relative to other law schools.
Some folks might think that the rough economy will have limited impact on places like Harvard. But in some respects, the effects are intensified with respect to top tier law schools. All those layoffs you've been reading about? They're at the large firms Harvard students rely upon for jobs. Smaller firms face tough times as well, but I suspect that the larger shops are particularly vulnerable to downdrafts among large companies. Small firms do criminal, family, estate, and tort work - and while clients may have less to spend, there will always be demand for these services. But when there aren't any mergers, there's no demand for M&A counsel. To be sure, Harvard graduates will find other options - more graduates may move into government and mid-sized firms. But for some students, that's going to come as a shock.
Update: Apparently Northwestern students aren't yet quaking. ATL reported yesterday that - much to the bafflemant of the placement folks there - almost nobody showed up for an NU Law meet-the-firms event. From ATL:
There were lots of firms there (even Latham), but everyone was shocked at how few students showed up. We talked to maybe 5 the whole night (2 hours). I had a bunch of friends there from other firms - they all had the same reaction - expecting tons of students, shocked at how few showed up.... All said turnout was noticeably lower than in previous years.