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July 1, 2009 11:53 AM

Move the OCI Start Date Back: A Growing Consensus?

Posted by Zach Lowe

As we were perusing the transcript of last week's National Association for Law Placement roundtable on the future of legal hiring, we were struck by how many career services folks at top law schools said they'd be willing to at least consider pushing on-campus recruiting back until the midway point of a student's second year in law school.

Unbeknownst to us, our colleague Karen Sloan at the National Law Journal was leafing through the transcript and noticing the same thing, according to her write-up (out today) of the conference held at Arnold & Porter last week. 

Some excerpts from the transcript, which you can read in full here:

Susan Robinson, associate dean for career services at Stanford Law School:

"I agree that we could move to the spring [of a student's second year]. It's certainly not as desirable from a faculty standpoint because the truth of the matter is that while students are in the midst of recruiting, that's pretty much all they do. And so class work and the focus on classes tends to suffer."

Heather Frattone, associate dean for career planning and placement, University of Pennsylvania Law School:

"I agree with Susan [Robinson] that from a logistics perspective, we could make spring recruiting work. There are obviously challenges with it. Business schools do it, so I suspect we could do it."

David Van Zandt, dean, Northwestern University School of Law:

"I fully agree we should move the recruitment period...either to the spring...or at least the winter of the second year."

Sure, there are some caveats there, but we think it's significant that career services leaders at top-notch law schools have opened to the door to something that their counterparts at law firms have been agitating more for over the last several months. But it's clear that some are still not sold, including Mark Weber, assistant dean for career services at the school everyone views as a bellweather--Harvard Law. 

Says Weber: "I'm starting my tenth year at Harvard, and the one issue that has not come up in my ten years in dealing with employers is moving [recruiting] into the spring. It's only because of the economy now that we're [asking] that question. And there [are] some obvious benefits to moving it to the spring. But...here is what I heard more than anything: "'Please don't move to an early interview program.'"

Weber goes on to note that Harvard (as has been well-documented) has indeed moved its interviews up to August this year, and other schools have rushed to catch up and make sure their students aren't left behind in the hiring rush.

Law firms have long said it is not exactly ideal to recruit future attorneys two years in advance, and those concerns have grown louder and more serious now that the economic crisis has left firms with commitments to many more attorneys than they'd like. But tradition dies hard (see the billable hour). Will change really come? 

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