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March 06, 2009


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Yes, and no. I'm a student at HLS. The bread and butter of HLS placements remains the large, V10 law firms (Cravath, DPW, S&C, Paul Weiss, etc.). These guys haven't laid anyone off--at least not yet. Most of the layoffs have come from lower-ranked "top" firms who hire more students from places like NYU, Fordham, or Michigan than from Harvard. Harvard has two problems--one timing related and one not. The timing problem was that many firms cut the size of their summer classes in Sept (after everyone else had interviewed but before Harvard--and incidentally Yale, also--had) AND that everyone at the other schools instantly accepted their offers as soon as the economy tanked. So summer classes were simply full by the time Harvard and Yale got there. The second problem, and why Harvard has been hit harder by this than Yale, is that Harvard is just enormous. There are 550 students looking to squeeze in somewhere (contrast this with fewer than 200 at Yale). At a school where having even 1 student without a job is looked on as a major institutional failure, you can see where the size is a disadvantage. The late interview seasons also afforded career services very little time to scramble to find jobs for the handful of students who missed out--by the time the problem became apparent, the hiring season was pretty much over.

I disagree that other schools are better-insulated because they send students to smaller firms. First, very few people at Northwestern (or even farther down the rankings) are going to firms where people do mainly family law and trusts and estates. Second, even if these smaller firms are more resilient, you've underestimated the downward squeeze factor. If the top 100 firms cut their summer classes by 1/3, that means the folks who would have taken one of those spots are then competing for the smaller firms alongside the people who would have been competing for them in the first place, meaning more applicants for the same number of jobs, which doesn't sound much different to me from an odds perspective than the situation at the top, which has the same number of students as before competing for fewer jobs.

It's also easy to say that Harvard students should swallow their pride and look outside the top firms, but bear in mind that many smaller firms aren't as eager to snatch up Harvard students as you might think. There is often a perception (probably correct) that the Harvard students don't want to be at these firms, wouldn't be applying to them if they'd had any other options, must be at the bottom of their class or they wouldn't need to be looking at small firms, will leave the firm as soon as they possibly can, etc. Small firms often would rather have a top 10% graduate of St. Johns who thinks he's hit the jackpot for landing the job than a bottom 10% Harvard kid who feels like being there is a mark of failure.

What Harvard's moving up of the date will do is simply make sure that whatever downward squeezing takes place in a rational manner (that is, that every school will have students looking 1 or 2 tiers down from where they'd place in a strong market) rather than this irrational balloon of too many Harvard kids getting dumped into a saturated market. This should help both students and firms by ensuring better matching of candidates with jobs.

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If harvard law school had a problem like that, what more to those small law school in town.

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