When You Can’t Even Work for Free

Here’s something the Class of 2010 had been discussing at length before the NYTimes picked up on it: deferred law firm associates take stipends and jobs at public interest groups only to later decide to forgo their big law paychecks for a more rewarding career in public interest.

The legal job market has been inundated by recent graduates who secured law firm jobs, were subsequently deferred with pay and ultimately ended up in public interest jobs. Some work the requisite year and then return to their firms. Others, are choosing to stay in public interest.

The NYTimes puts their own spin on the state of the market: “But it could be that nonprofits would have few, if any jobs, for entry-level lawyers because of the economic climate, and deferred associates are picking up the work for public interest groups that would otherwise be slashing services because of budget cuts.” Under this view, yes, this is a good thing.

This view ignores the fact that you’ve got graduates who have made two positions unavailable through the good fortune that their law firms don’t have enough work to do. While they work for free at the local courthouse, landlord-tenant call in line, or the consumer foreclosure resource office they receive a monthly stipend from their law firm.

The outcome? Not only are those firm jobs unavailable, but the public interest groups are finding it easier to justify not paying employees. If there are deferred associates receiving a stipend, there’s no need to find money in the budget to pay them. It’s terrifying to think that public interest groups might get used to not paying fledgling attorneys for this work, especially when you’ve got recent graduates who have decided to dedicate themselves to that field, not just fortunate deferees who need to fill the day with some practical experience.

While it’s unclear whether the employers realize what’s going on, it’s clear the academics and administrators do:

“I think it is hard for those wholly committed to public interest to see their deferred friends getting jobs at great public interest organizations while they struggle to land their dream jobs,” said Ms. Shabecoff, the assistant dean at Harvard.

via the NYTimes.

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