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Law school career offices take pride in the level of service we provide for our students. So what could possibly be wrong with providing good customer service? While the customer service model has many strengths and reflects our dedication to our students, is it the healthiest way to approach what we do or are we making our jobs more difficult and jeopardizing our students’ success in the “real” world? Should “happy” customers or well-prepared students be the goal of the law school career office? I recently spoke as a panelist on just this topic at the annual meeting of NACE, the National Association of Colleges and Employers. The program was organized and led by Andy Ceperley, Director of the Career Services Center at the University of California at San Diego. He had been inspired to put the program together after, among other things, reading a 2005 book by James G. Hutton, a professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University, called The Feel Good Society: How the “Customer” Metaphor is Undermining American Education, Religion, Media and Healthcare, which critiques our modern penchant for viewing ourselves and each other as customers rather than as citizens. In the student context, the customer service model has led to a spiral of ever-increasing expectations that we cannot (and, in many cases, should not) fulfill. Student satisfaction seems increasingly beyond our reach. The main problem with treating students as consumers, as Prof. Hutton points out, is that the consumer has rights but only one responsibility — to pay for the product. If I order a book from Amazon.com, to use a simple example, my only responsibility is to pay for the book. Amazon, on the other hand, must guarantee that the book I order is sent to me in a timely fashion. They must provide a huge inventory lest I go to some other site, and they must ensure that my book arrives in good condition. If it does not or is the wrong book, they must accept it back. As a customer, in this example, I expect complete satisfaction, I am indignant if Amazon sends the wrong book or the book is damaged. As a customer I have the right to not be disappointed. Through all of this, as the customer, I am passive. In the law school context, we advocate, often in the face of student reluctance, for self-assessment as the first step in the job search. Customers, conversely, don’t need self- assessment, they need only pay and receive. The customer service model taken to its logical extreme raises questions such as these: Should students be able to come into our offices and say, “I’m paying $40,000 a year to come here, where’s my job?” Is a job earned or bought? Should they get their money back if they don’t have a job at graduation? This approach is clearly not what we are about in our career offices. Students, as professionals-in-training, must learn to accept responsibility — not only because our programs cannot run if we are allowing constant exceptions for missed deadlines, but because it is our fundamental task to prepare them for life after law school — where there will be disappointment, where their happiness will not be at the forefront of anyone’s agenda, other than their own, where deadlines matter, and where they must take initiative. The temptation to provide customer service at the expense of educating students will only increase in coming years. The Millennials are the most recent product of America’s rampant consumerism. They have always seen themselves as customers. They have been marketed to since early childhood, received few Cs in school, been sheltered by their parents, both from failure and from taking responsibility. Millennials often expect instant gratification. Since they were small children they have looked into mirrors that are framed by slogans like: “You Are Looking at a Very Special Person.” These are students who for the most part have always been “the best” and have never “failed.” Receiving their first set of law school grades can be a crushing experience for many of them. Unless we teach them responsibility, when they graduate they will be ill-prepared for the demanding work of the legal profession with its bottom-line orientation, long hours, minimal positive feedback, ethical dilemmas and demanding clients. If not customers, what are they? I would agree with Professor Hutton that they are simply students. We counsel, we inform, but primarily, like other parts of academia, we teach them. And as part of the teaching process, at times, the students fail. Failure is not only expected and acceptable but can provide valuable learning opportunities. I think the customer service model is also a limited way of viewing our interaction with employers. What are employers, if not customers, vying for the products, our students? I would suggest: partners. We want to provide employers both with on-campus programs and job fairs that run smoothly and with well-prepared students. We are truly partners with them in finding good matches between student interests and employer needs. If not a job, what should students be guaranteed to get from the career office for their $40,000 a year? Certainly not “happiness.” If our goal is to make them happy, we have lost sight of our mission. Students certainly deserve support and encouragement, and the opportunities provided by on-campus interview programs, but, more importantly, they learn skills and benefit from the knowledge and wisdom of experienced counselors.

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