Emory Career Services and the Fat Middle

Quick recap for those of you just tuning in: our economy sucks largely because most people have jobs that don’t produce anything and are pretty much just busy work.  PhilaLawyer puts it more eloquently in The Giant Sucking Sound, and you can read about similar corporate waste in the legal industry in my earlier post, The Seamless Web Legal Economy.

Today, AbovetheLaw.com posted an e-mail sent by a rising 3L at Emory, complaining about the poor job career services was doing.  They also posted a response from the Emory Career Services Office.  You can read the full article here.  Below, I’m posting only the school’s reply, with emphasis added on every phrase that represents empty promises of improving the situation.  Those phrases are in bold.  Phrases showing where Emory has taken real, concrete steps to helping students are in red bold.

Thank you for your email. As I am sure you know, the extraordinary challenges facing the legal industry in the current recession have been difficult for all law schools. It is true that we have seen a decrease in participation in our on-campus interview and job fair programs, as have our peers. Despite these challenges, Emory Law remains committed to identifying new programming options and expanding our reach into new areas.

Over the past year and a half, we have instituted a number of new programs strategically designed in response to the changes in the legal market. We encourage all of our students to take advantage of our offerings focused on helping them strengthen their interviewing and networking skills and research and identify career options with small and mid-size firms, the public sector, and other employers and markets they might not have considered in different economic times. Obviously, we want every student to not only find a job, but also to find a fulfilling career. Given the current economic climate, that is more challenging each year.

The Office of Career Services has partnered closely with Emory Law’s Office of Alumni Relations to seek the assistance of our alumni as mentors and career advisors for our students. We have made significant changes to our mentor program and launched a new database of alumni advisors who stand ready to provide advice on all aspects of the legal profession to students and recent graduates. Also, we have launched a new program for 2010 graduates called Emory Law Connecting, which pairs recent graduates who are still seeking employment with alumni, faculty and others for one-on-one assistance.

We continue to collaborate with our Student Bar Association Career Services Committee, whose input has been invaluable, as we develop effective programs and events. Also, we continue to focus on the basics, such as one-on-one advising and assisting students in building strong application materials and job search skills. Regular communications from OCS include information about local bar events throughout the year and regional alumni events across the country during times when school is not in session.

We certainly appreciate the frustration among some of our students and those across the country. I can assure you the career services team spends countless hours focused on helping our students and alumni in every possible way and on providing advice, guidance and support during these difficult times.

Best,
Janet Hutchinson

Emory has seven people working as career services advisors, with one of them an assistant dean, and another a senior director.  If we assume an average salary for the non-managers of $50,000, $65,000 for the senior director, and $80,000 for the assistant dean, we get a total of $395,000.  There is also one administrative assistant, and let’s assume she works for $35,000, taking us up to $430,000, and I think I’m being pretty conservative here.

That’s just the salaries.  You also have any sort of retirement plan the school has and health insurance.  The office also takes up space and requires furniture, office equipment, software and office supplies (I bet they use a ton of paper; my own career services office sent me a 189 page book that was little more than a list of websites, which of course is least useful on paper, where I can’t just click on a link).  And then there’s the added costs they bring to other departments, such as human resources, pay roll, IT, and maintenance.

The true cost for this 7 man operation is likely about one million dollars.  Emory has about 700 students, so we’re talking roughly $1400 per student per year, or $4200 total per student.  And what do they get for this fee?  Advice such as “network” or “go on informational interviews.”  It’s basically an admission that they can’t help you.  The most they can do is suggest someone else who might be able to help you.

What about OCI?  Law firms in the South know about Emory.  They’ve heard of it before.  Without OCI, firms would just create their own career fairs or put together some other means of recruiting students.  I’m sure the SBA would be more than willing to help; career services is pretty much irrelevant and ought to be reduced to no more than 1 or 2 people.

As easy as it is to point out that career services offices do very little, I will admit that I think they’re also doing as much as they can.  The trouble is that it’s a flawed concept from the start.  They can help you edit your resume and maybe do a mock interview, but unless they’ve been on a law firm’s hiring committee, they don’t really know what it will take for you to land the job you want.  It’s just another variation of “Those who can’t, teach.”

They’ll talk about how law degrees open all sorts of doors because they’ve heard a handful of anecdotal evidence.  But, when they suggest working as a contracts specialist, do you think they’ve done the job before?  Do you think they have any idea what the day to day work is like?  Nope.  All they can do is name the job title and assure you that someone with a JD has done it before.

I recently talked to my own career services office, and told them one of the things I was interested in is journalism, but it’s an extremely hard field to get in to if you don’t have prior journalism experience.  She assured me I was qualified and there were lots of entry level positions in journalism.  I guess she hasn’t heard that print media has taken a beating lately.  Also, while there are entry level positions, they still require experience and a stack of clips (writing samples).  Journalism majors get all this through summer internships and working on the school paper.  A lawyer with an English degree could be qualified, but most places won’t look at you unless you have the specific credentials they’re looking for.  And why should they?  This is a buyer’s market?  Why settle for something that’s not quite what you want when there are hundreds of highly qualified perfect matches?

Enough of that tangent though, my point is that the people working in career services know extremely little about the industries they’re placing people in and what it takes to get a job there.  They don’t take your resume and peruse want ads looking for possible fits.  They simply don’t know what a job search entails.  They’ll tell you to network with alumni, but are extremely unhelpful at actually finding alumni for you to talk to.

NYU has an alumni directory, but for many people it does not list the company they are currently at, and when it does, it doesn’t say what role they are working in.  Unless it is a law firm, you have no idea what that person does.  Bill Doe, class of 1998, works at Google?  Is he in-house counsel?  A programmer?  Vice president of marketing?  Who knows.  Now, of course you could contact all these people and find out if they would be helpful at all, but isn’t that the grunt work career services is supposed to be doing in the first place?

When I was teaching logic for my undergrad school, I had office hours every week, and when students didn’t need help, I spent a lot of my time practicing logic proofs.  When I was an LSAT instructor I took the time to do practice questions.  I knew that the best way to help teach people and give advice was to be actively doing the task myself.

How many career services people have extensive experience in real life job hunting?  Truth is, if you have a ton of job-hunting experience, it’s probably because you suck at the actual job (why else are you constantly looking for work).

Career services is simply a flawed concept, doomed from the start.  But, it exists to help recruit law students who think it will be of use to them later.  And, unfortunately, the bigger, more expensive and wasteful this department is, the better it works as a recruitment tool.  Too bad we’ve been so suckered by the paper-pushing economy that some people really believe that developing a commitment to finding new programming options is actually doing something.

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17 Responses to “Emory Career Services and the Fat Middle”

  1. es Says:

    Third Tier Reality has noted that several TTTs and TTTTs boast of having a career center with a fax machine that is available to the students.

  2. bl1y Says:

    Not the biggest selling point, but that actually is somewhat convenient as few people have their own fax machine. But again, not worth advertising.

  3. ScammedHard! Says:

    Career “services” are pretty much incompetent. I’ve never received one iota of good advice from anyone in my school’s office. Give me a phone, a desk, and an internet connection, and keep one secretary, and I’ll run that place just as well for a quarter of the boss’ pay. At most schools they just exist to organize OCI, and when OCI lands students a grand total of four jobs, like at Emory, something is very wrong.

  4. bl1y Says:

    I believe those were just the positions for 3Ls, and 2L OCI is much bigger.

    But yes, why can’t the SBA do this? We had tons of events with firms wining and dining people back in summer of 2006. All of them were organized by the firms. The most the school did was forward the e-mail invite, and really, a couple 2L and 3Ls could do this stuff. It would be good training for people who want a job in law firm administration (aka: JD/MRS).

  5. Cam Says:

    Organizing OCI would be a hell of a lot more useful than anything any student group (SBA included) did at my school. I suppose the concern would be that firms could not develop relationships with school contacts if they changed every year or two. The more realistic answer would be like with law review–have one staff member, a secretary, who is around forever and knows everyone at each firm. She provides continuity and arranges for the students to do the leg work. If necessary, a faculty member (imagine!) provides occasional oversight. There, now we have a program as likely to work as current OCI, for $80k max total cost.

  6. bl1y Says:

    So what you’re saying is the SBA needs a faculty adviser? Sounds pretty easy to pull off.

  7. Vernunft Says:

    80k?

    How much do you really have to pay someone to shrug and say “There aren’t any jobs, need a tissue?”

  8. bl1y Says:

    Maybe that $80k factors in benefits, overhead, and a better selection of donuts.

  9. wlmingtonwave Says:

    That sucks that you alumni database is like that. Ours is okay, but a lot of the people put up their “alumni” e-mail addresses that they never check. I got lucky and have gotten some interviews through people I casually knew when they went to school. It does help, but you do have to take the initiative. It sucks out there and it is barren, but I think people make the mistake of abusing the internet and just “applying” for a million jobs online. That does not work. You need to have some sort of employee referral and you just have to get out there.

  10. wlmingtonwave Says:

    And also there are 6 unemployed people for every job opening. You have to distinguish yourself from the pack and perhaps that legwork is what will make you stand out. The place I am working at is a think tank where people are making 40k and everyone went to an Ivy League or just-below-Ivy League school. Same as at everywhere I am applying. Four years ago I would have thought, well I did internships, graduated from a good school (though not quite-Ivy league), etc. But that all means shit now, I have to want it more than the other folks.

  11. bl1y Says:

    What sucks for a lot of people is that they don’t have anyone to refer them, especially people who are first generation lawyers, or even first generation college grads. For instance, both of my parents work for government contractors supporting NASA and the military. They don’t exactly have a lot of contacts, and I’m now living in a city where the biggest employer is the federal government. This makes networking a pretty steep uphill battle.

    I’ve read a lot of stuff on networking, but it always starts with how to use your “first degree” contacts, the people you already know, to introduce you to other people (second degree contacts), and so forth (third degree, fourth, etc). There’s extremely little information for people who don’t already have those contacts.

    This is where career services should be stepping in, by maintaining relationships with graduates, so that career services can basically stand in for the well-connected relative you may not have.

  12. wlmingtonwave Says:

    I do sympathize with your situation. I am from a very middle/working class background and have no contacts through my family. I wasn’t in a frat or anything in college so I do not have that either like some of my friends.

    I do think that career services should try to bridge the gap, but I am also a big believer in taking the personal initiative. Also we have it so much better than generations past, because of the internet, things like facebook, linkedin, etc. I just try to make it a habit of keeping in touch with old employers, people I interned with, etc. At first I thought I was being disingenuous, but if you are really interested in what people have to say you don’t come off like that.

    Overall though, it does suck for folks like us who don’t have ancestors who came over on the mayflower or an uncle who is a Vice President at ____ LLC. I have also found it helpful to be very firm with career services so that they know you are not fucking around. Call instead of e-mail and just tell them what you want to do and what sorts of people you want to talk to. They should be stand in, but its still up to us to make the effort.

  13. bl1y Says:

    One thing career services should do instead of simply having an alumni directory is actively engage in making introductions.

    It can be pretty awkward for a recent graduate to send a cold e-mail to an alumn they’ve never talked to before. But, it would be very helpful if career services would do something like send an e-mail to the alumn saying “Dear Alumn, I’ve recently been advising Student on his career, and he would like to learn more about Your Practice Area. If you are available to talk with him, he can be reached at….”

    Maybe it’s just my Southern gentility, but I find having a third party make an introduction makes things go a lot smoother. (Also works with girls.)

  14. wlmingtonwave Says:

    I do agree with you on that, particularly because a lot of students e-mails will go into spam folders and be overlooked.

    I do think the South has that right. Going to school there helped even out my northeastern brashness!

  15. bl1y Says:

    Someone relay this message to career services: Pimpin’ ain’t easy, but it’s necessary.

  16. wlmingtonwave Says:

    I totally agree with that. It really resonated with me when I just re-read PL’s commencement speech and he talked about how EVERYONE from academics to artists to doctors need to sell themselves on some level.

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