The Job Market and Public Interest
By now we are all well aware of the tough job market facing everyone, including law school students and recent law school grads. While law school students have found it more difficult–and some cases impossible–to find jobs, some others who had been promised jobs have found their offers rescinded, or altered into deferments or other fellowship options. Of course, these job alterations have collateral consequences, including–but certainly not limited to–the difficulties they create for students who need to repay their student loan debt. Another collateral consequence is the impact such changes have on public interest and legal aid firms and that job market.
To be sure, at least some of these changes have been painted as a positive development for such entities. This is because when firms offer deferment packages, they often offer to pay a reduced salary in exchange for, or at least with the understanding that, deferred associates will seek out employment in the public interest. According to one Time article, “One undisputed upside to the current trend is that public-interest and legal-aid firms will finally receive some much needed help.” Like with charitable giving, public interest organizations are suffering dramatic cuts just as the need for their services are on the rise. As one Legal Aid executive noted, this means that deferred associates will be welcomed with “open arms.” Moreover, deferred associates get the opportunity to get some legal training while working in a field that not only desperate needs their help, but also in which they might not have otherwise had exposure. And after such exposure, some of them may even remain in the public interest field. It all seems like a silver lining to an admittedly difficult job market. But alas, perhaps this is a case of everything that glitters. . .
In other words, what about those law school students and grads who came to law school with the specific intent of working in the public interest field? They have no deferred arrangements. Instead, these law firm arrangements turn out not to be such a silver lining for them. The current crisis with its resulting budget cuts, has meant fewer public interest positions. Apparently (and as everyone expected), deferred associates have been taking the jobs that may have otherwise gone to those who would have specifically sought out public interest employment. These public interest agencies get workers without having to pay their salary, and apparently in some cases, without having to pay their benefits. Thus, it is an easy call for such agencies. And it could be that with budget cuts and the downturn, such agencies would not have had the resources to hire anyone–so perhaps it is not appropriate to think of this as a kind of zero sum game. Then too, it is still the case that associates are filling an important need. Moreover, it is still the case that whatever is happening, it is a difficult job market for everyone involved. However, this reveals that the climate is having a variety of unintended consequences.