Lois Casaleggi, the associate dean for career services at The University of Chicago The Law School (“UChicago”), spoke with Attorney at Law Magazine about the changing career prospects for new law school graduates in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. Casaleggi has worked in this field for almost 19 years. Fifteen of those years have been with the team at UChicago. She leads the law school’s career services team, working closely with students and graduates on their job searches and career goals.
AALM: Let’s start with the hypothetical. If the bar exam were unable to proceed in July, what would be the impact on the industry as a whole?
LC: The main impact would be one of delay in new attorneys starting work and, in some cases, for employment prospects, as some employers wait to hire graduates after they have passed a bar exam. This can be mitigated by limited practice rules allowing graduates to practice law under the supervision of a licensed attorney.
AALM: The ABA urged states to authorize law graduates unable to take the exam due to the pandemic to engage in limited practice. What are your thoughts on this policy and how can it best be implemented?
LC: We believe that this is the most sensible approach in this moment of exigency. It allows states to approach administering the bar exam in the safest ways possible, while allowing graduates to start the practice of law with appropriate supervision.
AALM: What are some challenges to allowing limited practice to new graduates?
LC: There could be administrative challenges for states in putting these rules into practice. Fortunately, many states already have rules in place for limited practice options for students that could be modified for graduates, and many states already allow the practice of law under the supervision of an attorney while a graduate awaits their bar results, which could be extended to this situation. (The Illinois State Bar Association recently issued an advisory opinion on this topic.) Employers would have to be willing to provide the supervision and guidance necessary for new graduates, but this is support that they traditionally provide for new attorneys.
AALM: While the impact to law school graduates is obvious, how is this impacting law firms and other employers who were onboarding new graduates?
LC: Employers are making many different decisions about when and how to bring incoming attorneys onboard. Some employers, including many large law firms, will delay start dates from the fall to January. Other employers need these new attorneys to start as soon as possible, particularly in the public sector where the need for legal services is significant. In many cases, public interest organizations need their new attorneys to handle their workload and start representing clients right away. If those graduates aren’t able to take a bar exam or practice under a temporary licensing system they may not be able to assist their clients.
AALM: For those graduates who aren’t permitted to practice, what advice do you have for them? Should they be looking for employment? Preparing for when the bar exam will be reinstated?
LC: Students graduating in May or June should be staying on top of the plans of the jurisdiction in which they intend to take the bar exam, so they know what the timetable and process for the exam will be. If students are graduating and seeking a job, they should continue to look for work. Even though hiring has slowed, they should stay connected with their network, apply to positions, and work with their law school’s career services office on their job search.
AALM: What can law schools do to support their graduates at this time?
LC: Law schools are always very focused on supporting their students and have only increased those efforts at the present time. There are many different ways that this takes place. My team has always taken an individualized approach with students and we have redoubled that effort because of the current uncertainty. Each student will be concerned about different issues and have different market forces affecting their decision-making process, and we are here to assist them in navigating that. Communication is key, and we are trying to keep our students as informed as possible even in the midst of all the uncertainty right now.
AALM: How do you think this situation will compare to the 2008 financial crisis?
LC: After the 2008 downturn, we saw a mix of responses from employers. The approach that many law firms took was to defer the start for the Class of 2009 and to contract the size of their summer classes going forward. Given the different timing and nature of that situation, as well as lessons learned from that downturn, we expect to see some different responses this time around. We are already seeing employers make more economic cuts than we saw in the previous market downturn rather than personnel cuts. For incoming attorneys, some employers are adjusting start dates and making contingency plans for a possible remote start. Employers are focusing on bringing in new attorneys as soon as it is possible to do so safely and practically.
AALM: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
LC: Students have many questions about what is happening and what will happen in the legal job market both in the short term and in the long term. Their law schools are paying very close attention to all of these issues and are often directly involved in finding solutions. Law schools and those of us in student service-focused positions are here to help students work through the possible scenarios even where there are not yet clear answers. The legal industry has been through market downturns before, and while the current situation is unique in many ways, the need for good lawyers will continue. I encourage students to work with their law schools, who want to help them successfully weather this storm.