It just may be the first legal job fair of its kind: The job seekers don’t expect to get paid by the recruiting organizations, and the recruiting organizations don’t expect the job seekers to stick around for more than a year.
That’s the idea behind an event next week in Newark, N.J., that aims to connect incoming associates who have deferred start dates with public interest law organizations that want some virtually free temporary help.
The Volunteer Lawyers for Justice (VLJ) is organizing the fair in response to the confusion and concerns regarding law firms’ public interest programs for deferred incoming associates. Those programs vary widely by firm, but most involve paying a stipend to incoming associates to work in a public interest law organization for several months or a year before starting their firm work.
Many law firms have implemented such programs amid the recession to delay paying full salaries to incoming associates. Latham & Watkins, Morgan Lewis & Bockius and Alston & Bird are among those that have unveiled public interest programs in recent weeks.
Although many understaffed public interest organizations are eager for some low-cost labor, the rapidly evolving situation has created a somewhat unorganized and haphazard scramble by deferred incoming associates to snag positions. Thus, the VLJ organized what has been dubbed the “Deferred Associates Fair”, which will take place on April 8 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. The nonprofit VLJ trains volunteer attorneys to provide free legal assistance to low-income clients in New Jersey.
Karen Sacks, the executive director to the VLJ, said that 12 public interest legal organizations have signed up to participate in the fair so far, and there could be 20 or more represented at the event. The organizations attending the fair deal with a variety of issues ranging from education law and domestic violence to art law. Several law school clinics are also scheduled to attend and are looking for attorneys to assist students. “We thought it would be perfect opportunity to get everybody in the same room together,” Sacks said. “It’s an opportunity for these organizations to get out in front of people.”
The event will be set up like a traditional job fair, where deferred associates can meet with representatives from the public interest groups. Sacks said she senses that many deferred associates heading to law firms simply don’t know where to go to find a suitable public interest position. Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker and Jack E. Pace III, a partner in the global competition and commercial litigation practice at White & Case, are also scheduled to speak at the event.
Esther Lardent, the president and chief executive officer of the Pro Bono Institute, said that she is interested to see how effective the Deferred Associate Fair is in connecting incoming associates with appropriate public interest positions. The Pro Bono Institute has developed a set of “ best practices” for law firms that are encouraging deferred associates and other attorneys to accept a temporary position at a public interest group. The Pro Bono Institute is pushing law firms to take a more active role in helping their associates secure public interest jobs.
“I’m a little concerned about trying to do [a job fair] on a one-off basis, as opposed to having the firm initiate it,” Lardent said. “Our hope is that the firms play a significant role in helping solve some of these [logistical] problems.”
If law firms help organize an area job fair that brings together a number of preapproved public interest groups, the process might be easier for the deferred associates, she said.
Still, Lardent said it makes a lot of sense to bring together public interest organizations that have spots for deferred associates in a job fair setting. Additionally, the Pro Bono Institute is suggesting that law firms look beyond traditional public interest legal services providers for deferred associate placements, and consider courts, public defenders,
prosecutors, boards of education, academic institutes and think tanks, among other places. Further, firms should consider opportunities for their deferred associates in underserved parts of the country, such as New Orleans, rural California or Texas.
There is certainly demand for deferred associates, Lardent said. The Pro Bono Institute recently sent informal queries to about 1,000 public interest organizations across the country to see if they were interested in bringing on a deferred law firm associate, and over 400 have thus far responded that they are. It is also keeping a list of those organizations, and sending to law firms and to the National Association for Law Placement.
As for the Deferred Associate Fair in New Jersey, Sacks said she expects many incoming associates from New York firms to attend, as few New Jersey law firms have announced public interest programs. New Jersey allows law students and recent law graduates to practice law under supervision, so taking a temporary public interest position in the state should not be a problem for incoming associates who take the New York bar over the summer, Sacks said.