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January 29, 2010 11:49 AM

History Rhymes

Posted by Ed Shanahan

By Ashish Nanda

As hiring institutions competed to recruit students ahead of their competitors, the date by which assignments were finalized kept creeping forward. Recruiters and schools collectively bemoaned that positions were finalized well before completion of professional training but, despite numerous resolutions, failed to prevent the market from unraveling. Finally, with appointments being made two years before jobs began, the schools and the hiring institutions decided that the dates by which positions were finalized had to be pushed back. The way to do that would be to mandate that offers be made on a particular date and students be given a short window of time to accept or reject the offers.

Does this description appear familiar? Law firms and law schools have been fretting that, with recruitment of new associates coming primarily from the pool of 2L summer associates, and summer assignments being decided early in the fall of the second year, new associate jobs in law firms are being decided a full two years before they begin. To counter this unraveling, a commission established by the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) proposed on January 7 that all law firms move to a common offer date in January for 2L recruiting, and law students who are offered these assignments decide within 14 days.

However, the above characterization fits not only the world of law firms recruiting summer associates in 2010 but also fits uncannily the world of hospitals recruiting medical school graduates for internships in 1946.

In the first half of the twentieth century, as hospitals competed to recruit graduating medical students for internships, the date by which internships were finalized crept forward. By 1944, internship appointments were being made two years before the internships began.

In 1945, the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) resolved that scholastic transcripts and reference letters would not be released prior to the end of the junior year (a date that later was pushed further back to the senior year) and in 1946 decided that all internship offers be tendered at the same time and all acceptance or regrets be communicated within seven days. This approach succeeded in reversing the unraveling of internship appointments, but the problem of mismatches in appointments became considerably worse. Students were accepting offers from less-preferred hospitals only to be approached later by preferred hospitals. Hospitals were making offers to less-preferred students only to discover later that they could have recruited preferred students. Despite rules allowing students a seven-day window to decide, hospitals pressed students to accept internship offers immediately after they were extended, and students sometimes reneged on their commitments.

The internship assignments date was pushed back, but mismatches became more common. As students and hospitals unable to find matches in the first round scrambled, many discovered that they had accepted poorer matches when better matches could have been made. Over the next few years, under pressure from hospitals and students that bore the mismatches and scrambling in subsequent rounds, the offer-acceptance window for the first round was compressed from the original seven days in 1946 to 12 hours by 1950. But mismatches continued unabated. Eventually, the medical profession recognized that the problem of mismatches could only be addressed by conducting centralized matching of hospitals’ and students’ preferences. The centralized matching approach, introduced in 1951-52, survives to this day, with high levels of voluntary participation.

What can the legal summer associate recruitment market learn from the experiences of the medical internship recruitment market six decades before? And what is likely to happen if the NALP commission’s proposal is implemented?

 CLICK HERE for some predictions and to read the full article.

Ashish Nanda is the Robert Braucher professor of practice, faculty director of executive education, and research director of the program on the legal profession at Harvard Law School. E-mail: ananda@law.harvard.edu.

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