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April 21, 2009 4:00 PM

Hanging with the Deferred

Posted by Zach Lowe

The Am Law Daily thinks the whole deferred 3L thing is one of the strangest, most interesting results of this economic downturn, so we were excited to trudge through the rain to New York University's School of Law yesterday for a frantically put together career fair for deferred 3Ls and the public interest law groups waiting to hire them--on the law firm's nickel. 

If we had to sum up the experience in a word, it'd be: confusion. The 3Ls are confused because, according to many of them and the nonprofit lawyers they spoke to, many firms still haven't decided on the exact mechanics of their deferral programs or whether the first-years will be deferred at all. That has created confusion for the public interest groups--as we've reported before, they question who in this equation will be on the hook for malpractice insurance, health coverage, and other costs before they start scooping up the deferred.

"There was definitely some confusion," says Matthew Faiella, a staff attorney at the New York Civil Liberties Union, one of the more popular stops for The NYU Deferred yesterday, or so it seemed to us. (Faiella says about four or five students stopped by to chat.) "We had folks whose firms haven't told them what their deferral program will look like."

Irene Dorzback, assistant dean of career services for the law school, has said about 140 of NYU's 500 soon-to-be graduates have been deferred at least a year, while an unknown number of others have been deferred until January 2010. 

The uncertainty may be partly to blame for what some of the nonprofits in attendance described as a disappointing turnout. We talked to a half-dozen nonprofit representatives who said they talked to more reporters than students--and, by our count, there were only two reporters there.

"It was a bust for us," says Todd Silverblatt, the executive director of Partnership for Children's Rights (the Manhattan-based organization does legal work for children with disabilities). No students approached PCR's table, even though the organization has a couple of positions it's looking to fill. Silverblatt says most NYU events are huge successes, and speculates that students feel a lack of clarity about the deferral situation--and a ton of stress over their impending finals. 

"Maybe it's that, or it could be that reality just hasn't sunk in for a lot of these students," he says. (Silverblatt's organization was one of a dozen or so on the 9th floor, which received less traffic than the first floor. Dorzback told us last week that it was difficult to find ideal spaces because she and her staff organized the conference on such short notice that many rooms were prebooked for other uses.) 

Dorzback says that all things considered, the event went "extremely well," with more employers trying to get in at the last minute. (Those who found out too late left informational packets). Students are saying they found the afternoon "very helpful," she says.

As for the students, they seemed nervous if aware of the unique opportunity their odd situation presents. We talked to a few considering offers to work at courts outside the U.S. and others wondering whether clerking for a federal judge would qualify as public interest work for their firm-to-be--and whether they could earn both the firm's stipend and the clerk salary at once.

One thing was clear to us: There will be a lot of spots for the taking for some eager, interested 3Ls--at least those from NYU and other first-tier schools. Kenneth Rosenfeld, director of legal services at the Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation, told us he'd take on as many as ten deferred 3Ls--and that only two approached him at Monday's event. Legal Services of the Bronx wants five of The Deferred, the New York Civil Liberties Union wants four, and all 50 or so organizations that attended want at least one or two.

"It's a wonderful opportunity," says Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU. "Many of the graduating students seem to be up in the air, but it's important and wonderful that the firms are doing this."

Rachel Breitman contributed reporting.

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