Victoria Behr, interim assistant dean of the Career Development & Public Service Office, discusses recruiting, summer jobs, and the post-graduate job market.
The rapid spread of the coronavirus and social distancing policies put in place to protect students, faculty, and staff have upended many aspects of the law school experience, from remote classes to new grading policies and event cancellations. Even amidst so much change and uncertainty, there are bright spots and a caring community to be found.
As the pandemic causes many industries to contract and unemployment filings to rise, there are growing concerns about how it will impact the legal field. We asked Victoria Behr, interim assistant dean of the Career Development & Public Service Office, about how COVID-19 is affecting recruiting, summer jobs, and the post-graduate job market. Her responses below have been edited for style and concision.
BU Law News: What are you hearing from employers regarding summer and post-graduate positions?
Victoria Behr: Legal employers are grappling with uncertainty as much as everyone else is. Employers across all sectors are trying to determine if their summer internships can proceed, and very much want to retain the talented students they worked so hard to recruit. However, the impact of the public health crisis is forcing them to consider, and, in some cases make, concrete changes to upcoming programs.
Some summer employers have delayed start dates and have either announced new dates or simply stated that the beginning of the internship will be delayed. Others have said they are hoping to start on the planned date, but are preparing to onboard interns remotely, and work will continue remotely if that becomes necessary. We have heard from a small number of employers, including the Department of Justice, who are assessing other modifications to their summer programs because they are not able to allow interns to work remotely. Similarly, judges and courts are addressing interns’ ability to work remotely on a case-by-case basis. On the First Circuit, for example, one justice has canceled a judicial internship and another has pushed back the start date in the hopes that the intern can do at least part of the program in person, while allowing for the possibility that the student may begin work remotely. Unsurprisingly, we are starting to hear from a few employers—though very few—who may not be able to offer remote work or know they cannot permit remote work. These employers are explicitly permitting interns to withdraw acceptance of their offers given the extenuating circumstances. We encourage all students to let the CDO know about changes or cancellations.
News of the impact on post-graduate positions is only trickling in, as most employers are focusing on shifting to remote work while supporting their attorneys and staff, and evaluating the impact on associates and interns for this upcoming summer. Of course, the postponement of the bar examinations, including in MA and NY, needs to be considered. Employers have mentioned that they hope the pandemic will not affect fall start dates, and that hope seems more realistic where they had initially targeted later start dates, such as November. Others may defer their start dates. The impact of the recession in 2008–12 resulted in some law firms deferring start dates for as long as six months to one year, so we may start to see that happen. At that time, some larger firms were in the position to offer stipends to its associates who agreed to start in January or March, or, in some cases, one year later. Employers have said they hope they don’t have to resort to these measures, but that they may have to if the economy doesn’t turn around by then. BU Law Public Service Fellows could also have a delayed start if that becomes necessary.
Unfortunately, we have seen some employers stop associate hiring, and a few have ceased hiring summer interns. This has impacted some students who had already interviewed with the employer, or whose upcoming interviews were canceled. On the other hand, we are still hearing about students getting virtual interviews with employers, including with government agencies like the NYC Department of Social Services, district attorneys’ offices, New Jersey trial court system, and law firms. While we may see a drop in the total number of jobs posted, Symplicity and other online job boards continue to include opportunities across all sectors. We encourage you to apply broadly and speak to your CDO advisor about how to identify opportunities to build a transferrable skill set this summer.
How will the new grading policies impact judicial clerkship applicants?
It is still too early to tell. The CDO’s hope is that, because judges will receive many pass-fail grades for this semester from law students across the country, it will not have a significant effect.
Some federal judges will consider 2L applicants’ GPA as of the end of fall semester, which coincides with the grade sheets 2Ls have already submitted to OSCAR judges following the “hiring plan” when they applied in February. “Off-plan” judges may review materials and interview candidates at any time, and as a result, may also not have a spring 2020 grade sheet to consider in making interview selections. 2L transfer students may request a grading policy statement from the Registrar’s Office that explains why they do not have a BU rank. For 3Ls currently applying to federal or state clerkships, judges may look for an overall upward trajectory during the course of your legal education in addition to your cumulative GPA.
All applicants are encouraged to discuss the impact of the pass-fail system with their CDO advisor, and work with Blair Edwards to prepare interview talking points that best address this concern. Remember that judges also look for relevant coursework, research and writing experience, diversity, prior work experience, and other holistic factors when assessing candidates.
Are there plans to reschedule or modify OCI and government and public interest recruiting efforts? Should 1L and 2L students interested in finding summer 2021 and post-graduate positions focus more on direct outreach than on these large recruiting events?
The impact of the COVID-19 outbreak is affecting everyone’s short and long-term plans, so it is no surprise that we are seeing job fairs and recruiting programs for this summer being postponed. Some law schools have announced that they are moving on-campus interview programs to January/February 2021, and we, too, are assessing dates in 2021 that would work best for our students. (This consideration applies to both our on-campus interviews and other off-campus recruitment programs, such as those in NY and DC.) While BU Law’s OCI largely includes law firms, it has traditionally included some government and public interest employers as well. The timing for the fall and spring MLSC Gov/PI Job Fairs could be affected, but nothing has been decided by the Law School Consortium that collaboratively runs the program . The Loyola Patent Law Interview Program just announced it is moving from this summer to 2021. We have not heard anything about the EJW Conference and Career Fair or Lavender Law.
Current 1Ls and 2Ls seeking summer or post-graduate positions who had intended to participate in these job fairs should carefully monitor CDO emails for updates about these programs. We always encourage students to be proactive in their outreach efforts, even if the student had intended to rely primarily on one or more recruiting programs. This advice still applies. However, students need to be cognizant of the reality that many employers do not have the bandwidth right now to think about their needs for next summer or for entry-level associates for the fall of 2021.
How will these challenges affect international students?
International students who require visas to work in the United States could be impacted not just because of issues affecting visa applications that may arise, but also by a potential slowdown in the economy. An economic downturn will affect the sheer number of employers who are hiring and willing to sponsor an international student. The pandemic also may give rise to complications regarding international students’ abilities to benefit from Optional Practical Training (OPT), including the requirement of physically being in the country to apply for it. The postponement of bar examinations is also an issue for many students, including our international JD students and LLM students. Normally, some apply for OPT and sit for the bar in July. However, with the postponement, it is unclear how the 90-day unemployment grace period will apply. I would encourage students with questions about these issues to contact the BU International Students & Scholars Office.
How is the Career Development Office supporting students who are still looking for jobs? What resources are available for this?
All of the CDO advisors are continuing to meet virtually or talk with students. We have developed a guide to job searching during this uncertain time (available on Blackboard) which suggests adjustments to the job search strategy, emphasizing the need to be creative, proactive and resourceful. In addition, we are regularly in touch with employers to figure out what practice areas are hiring and what areas are slowing down, which will prove useful as students look to us for advice on both their short- and long-term goals. We are also posting materials on sector-specific job searches and answers to students’ Frequently Asked Questions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic on the CDO Blackboard website. Finally, we will be holding Virtual CDO on the Go events, so look for emails about dates and times for that.
We are engaging with employers not only to assess who is hiring but also to create opportunities and describe to them ways in which BU Law students and soon-to-be graduates can contribute to their organizations. It is clear that many legal service providers still have work and, in some cases, have an increased need to provide services and address new legal issues. Outreach to all employers is aimed to discover where these opportunities are. We also have been active in identifying opportunities for remote pro bono work (search Symplicity for “Remote Pro Bono 2020”), which can help students continue to build skills and gain experience while supporting organizations in need right now.