This economic climate has put law firms and law schools in sometimes uncharted waters with often choppy tides.
The latest example, as first reported Wednesday by legal blog "Above the Law," is yet another tale of on-campus interviews and the ever-changing way firms are looking at hiring summer associates.
According to a memo posted by Above the Law, Fordham University School of Law Dean William Michael Treanor found the timing of Reed Smith's decision to pull out of on-campus interviewing at the school to be unprofessional. And, in response, he banned the firm from interviewing on the campus for five years. The Legal Intellingencer obtained a copy of the memo, sent to students Wednesday, from the law school.
According to the memo, Reed Smith informed Fordham that it would be pulling out of recruiting after the school had already issued its interview schedule to students. That meant some students used up a valuable interview slot. Treanor said Reed Smith still planned to have a 2010 summer program but was withdrawing from interviewing at a few schools.
"While disappointing, Reed Smith's action is more disheartening because of the lack of professionalism it conveys," Treanor said in the memo. "The firm could have made its decision earlier; in fact, it received its interview schedule prior to canceling its participation. In my seven years as dean, no other firm has canceled its interviews after the schedule was released. Thus, we have informed the firm that it will not be invited to participate in our OCI program for the next 5 years. I have never imposed such a sanction on an employer, and I was saddened to do so."
Treanor began his memo by talking about how ethics and professionalism are at the heart of the legal profession. He concluded the memo by writing that the school expects its students to act with the utmost professionalism and it expects employers to do the same.
Michael B. Pollack, global head of strategy at Reed Smith, said this certainly isn't a situation the firm was looking for and he suspects the ban isn't a good situation for the firm or the students. He said he hopes Treanor would reconsider.
"We're trying to run a business just like he's trying to run a law school and I appreciate the pressures that he is under and I would hope he would appreciate the pressures we're under," Pollack said.
Reed Smith will have a summer program next year but it will be smaller than in the past so the firm had to make some adjustments to its recruiting. He said Reed Smith would still be interviewing Fordham students but at its offices and not on campus.
"It's unfortunate that it didn't fit within Fordham's schedule and calendar, but we're trying to manage this thing as best we can," Pollack said.
He said he thought the firm was up-front with the schools about its decision to pull back from some recruiting. Many firms are doing a number of different things as every sector of the legal industry has to re-examine the way it does business.
"Does interviewing in August make sense when you're trying to project [what your needs will be] two years from now?" Pollack asked. "I suspect not."
Law schools and law firms need to have a serious dialogue on the issue, he said. While not everyone is fully aligned yet, he said he hopes these issues can be worked out so a similar situation doesn't happen again.
James G. Leipold is executive director of NALP -- The Association for Legal Career Professionals, which is an organization established through the efforts of law firms and law schools to create an ethical framework for interviewing and hiring summer associates and law students. Leipold said NALP isn't a regulator or accreditor.
"There are no NALP police," he said.
The standards the association has in place are only effective because both sides agree to them. Those standards have never been enforceable except to the extent a law school has flexed its muscle in the market and pushed back, he said.
Leipold wouldn't comment on the specifics of the situation between Reed Smith and Fordham. Both are members of the NALP. But he did say there is nothing in NALP guidelines that would govern a situation like this. While the association has specifics on timing for when offers must be given or accepted, for example, it doesn't have anything regarding when firms can pull out of OCI.
"This particular fact pattern I've never seen before," he said. "It's new" like many things in this market.
But a law school or schools pushing back against the decisions of law firms is in no way unprecedented, Leipold said. That is why schools and firms have been able to keep within the framework outlined by the NALP, he said.
The NALP has sent out several communiques to its members, he said, that have pressed the importance of open communication between firms and schools regardless of what decisions are made regarding on-campus interviewing and hiring.
Morgan Lewis & Bockius made a very open and public display of its decision to cancel its 2010 summer program altogether. The firm sent out a letter to all of the law schools where it was set to interview in order to explain its decision and express its willingness to work with law schools. While that doesn't mean schools weren't nervous about the effect these decisions would have on 2011 law school graduates, they were appreciative of Morgan Lewis' willingness to work with them on the issue.