Just a couple of blocks from Fordham University Law School, on a recent warm spring evening, a few 2Ls were at a bar, drinking and discussing a subject that's become almost taboo on campus -- summer employment. "It's really weird, but no one talks about jobs," says one student. Another takes a sip of his questionable concoction of bourbon and iced tea, and adds: "When you're stressing for months, searching for something that probably won't even pay, you feel pathetic. I don't want to know if the guy next to me has a job."
Summer jobs were easier to talk about -- and easier to get -- a few years ago. Back then, the process was like a train running on a track. Fordham may not be Harvard, but a place in the top third of your class meant your choice of a plum summer gig, which led to a near-guaranteed job after graduation.
The students out drinking that night have learned, painfully, that those days are gone. These three students -- two men and a woman, all in their twenties -- say they kept up their end of the bargain: They put in the hours and earned the high grades. "You're like, okay, I've got those grades, I've got a good shot," says Nick. (A pseudonym -- the students asked not to be identified, fearing the effect their quotes might have on future employment.)
The attitude adjustment started with the school's on-campus interviewing process for summer associate positions, known as OCI. The students were given a sheet that lists law firms and the GPA you'd need to score an interview. (A similar process is followed at many schools.) "That's how you got a job two years ago, when you had the pick of the litter," says Nick. "None of that matters now."
Last fall, in the weeks leading up to the interviews, the students say, they began to get a "sense of impending doom," as Brian puts it. Every day, it seemed, they got e-mails from Fordham saying this firm wasn't coming or that firm would be hiring only a handful of students. An atmosphere of desperation developed. "It's like, 'I'll babysit your kids, I'll pick up your laundry, whatever it takes, just give me a job,' " says Brian.
That "whatever it takes" attitude turned a position known as the "morning greeter" -- a student who literally greets the interviewer on his way into the building and walks him to his interviewing seat -- into a coveted spot. "It's the most ridiculous job. In past years, no one wanted to do it," says Brian. This year, there was a waiting list for the spots. Brian pauses, throws back some more of his drink, then continues, "But this year it was a chance to get more face time with a live person from a firm. Supposedly some of the greeters got interviews."
"I did it," Karen says with a laugh. "I got an interview with [unnamed firm] -- but no callback."
Karen and her two friends all landed some interviews with top firms during OCI -- and even a few callbacks -- but no one was offered a job. Karen managed to get a summer position with a small firm in New York during a later interview process. Nick will be taking a $9-an-hour research position, and Brian is taking an unpaid internship with a California public defender's office.
Better than nothing, they say, but they have no idea how these summer jobs will affect their future prospects, or what lies in store for them when they interview as 3Ls. (Historically, not a great prospect.)
The students are also counting down the days until their in-school loan deferment expires. "I was offered full scholarships at lower-tier schools but turned them down, because I thought I was making an investment coming to Fordham," says Nick. "Now I have $140,000 of debt, and I don't know that I'll have a job when I get out of here."
"Don't you feel like we missed the boat or something?" Brian asks his friends. "I mean, it's not just this summer we're talking about, this is the rest of our lives."
"I'm trying not to think about that," Nick answers, looking at his empty glass. "This drink wasn't strong enough."