“I won’t be in class; I have a job interview”: Dealing with a Changing 1L Experience

As I regularly teach first-year students, I note with interest a proposed revision to NALP’s 1L Guidelines that would remove all date restrictions on interaction between 1Ls and career service professionals (currently disallowed before October 15) and between 1Ls and employers (currently disallowed before December 1). I also note, with disappointment, the growing number of times that 1L students are missing my Legal Writing class for a job interview or, in one recent case, even for a work shift. A colleague of mine reports her frustration with the same trend.

If adopted, the change to the NALP guidelines would further chip away at the conventional but no longer sacrosanct wisdom that 1Ls should be almost exclusively focused on their academic studies, especially in their first few months of law school. I expect that many schools clinging to that wisdom would have to loosen up existing approaches to the 1L experience, if they have not already.

By way of example, the administration at the school where I teach intentionally schedules 1L classes on all five days of the week for each section. This is consistent with our policy actively discouraging 1Ls from engaging in any employment outside of law school. But probably it is not consistent with shifting realities affecting 1Ls—the very realities that give rise, no doubt, to the proposal to reform the NALP guidelines.

Career services offices, which coordinate many 1L job interviews, simply cannot avoid all potential class conflicts—or at least they cannot where all 1Ls have class five days a week. I am very curious if other schools set aside a whole day of the week or multiple entire mornings or afternoons where there are no classes for 1Ls. I expect that more and more schools will need to consider adopting such an approach.

The challenge to law schools arises not just from the growing priority for 1Ls to search and interview for summer jobs, but also, I think, from a growing priority for at least some 1Ls to actually work in jobs—law-related or otherwise—during the academic year. Indeed, I hear from more and more 1Ls that they are working outside of law school. However, I expect that there remain many schools that, like mine, actively discourage 1L employment.

Interestingly, presuming the ABA House of Delegates goes along with a pending reform to ABA Standard 305, law schools will no longer be barred from offering academic credit to students working for compensation in an approved externship. (As of now, Interpretation 305-2 prohibits law schools from granting credit to a student for “participation in a field placement program for which the student receives compensation.”) Most current externship programs or opportunities are designed for 2Ls and 3Ls. But what should schools do about 1L students who need to work during the school year to make ends meet? I imagine that, if the change to Standard 305 is adopted, some of those 1Ls might be savvy enough to ask for academic credit for their work—presuming it is law-related—and then complain when they cannot get it because the work does not fall within the prescribed curriculum.

Even if my imagination is too wild on that point, the reality is that there are 1Ls in full-time J.D. programs who are working. And, anecdotally, I sense their numbers are rising. If I am right about that trend, perhaps some 1L curricular or programmatic reform is appropriate in response. Whether that means the development of elective 1L externship programs (for unpaid work in government and public interest positions too, of course) or something else, I’m not sure. But I am sure that, for better or worse, employment–searching for it and engaging in it–is changing the 1L experience.

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