Jessica Blumert always knew she wanted to work in-house at a corporate legal department. She just didn’t expect to get there right out of law school.
The 2013 graduate of Yeshiva Univer­sity Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law is a month into her new gig as an associate in the legal department of Diamonds International — the largest jewelry store in the Caribbean. She landed at the company through Cardozo’s new Resident Associate Mentor Program, where law firms and corporate legal departments hire Cardozo alums for one year at a ­salary of $38,000.
Diamonds International joins ­several corporations — Credit Suisse Group A.G., Morgan Stanley, Bank of New York Mellon Corp. and Consolidated Edison Inc. — that have pledged to or have already hired law students and recent graduates for temporary in-house counsel stints.
They’re doing so under pilot programs like Cardozo’s — one of a handful of efforts recently launched by law schools and bar associations that provide practical experience and perhaps lead to permanent jobs. Many of these programs center on or include corporate legal departments, challenging a prevalent notion that new lawyers don’t belong in-house. Legal departments traditionally have shied away from hiring green lawyers and training law students, preferring instead to hire laterally from law firms.
But that’s changing as companies look to cut spending on outside firms and as the pool of potential lateral associate hires shrinks with new-hire reductions, said several in-house attorneys. Working directly with law students and recent graduates will help them create a more diverse legal department, some attorneys say.
“General counsel are now thinking, ‘Maybe there is a lower tier of work that we can staff internally at a lower cost and train them ourselves,’ ” said Mark Morril, former general counsel of Simon & Schuster and chair of the New York City Bar Association’s Task Force on New Lawyers in a Changing Profession. “ They didn’t hire new graduates before because they didn’t have the resources to train them, but they’re rethinking that.”
The New York City Bar Association this month announced the creation of its Bridge to Practice Program, in which four large companies have agreed to employ law students or recent graduates on a temporary basis. Cardozo’s associate mentor program has placed two recent graduates in-house and nine others at small and medium-size firms.
“This is literally my dream job,” said Blumert, who hopes to remain at Diamonds International once her yearlong commitment ends. “I always wanted to do fashion law or [intellectual property], but I had sort of given up on getting an in-house job. I talked to a lot of in-house lawyers and they said, ‘There isn’t much right now and most people come through a law firm, so go to a law firm and try to become the best in your area.’ “
Cisco Systems Inc. will launch a program this summer with the University of Colorado Law School in which two students will work in its legal department full time for seven months.
“From June until January, they are all Cisco, all the time,” said Colorado law dean Philip Weiser, who conceived of the program with Cisco general counsel Mark Chandler. “It’s an immersive experience, and Cisco will treat them like a full-time lawyer.”
The San Jose-based technology company is under no obligation to hire the students once they graduate, Weiser said, but their time spent within the company’s legal department will give the participants a real résumé boost.
For Cisco, the program offers a chance to instill an in-house mind-set in young attorneys — something that lateral law firm hires tend to lack.
“We want access to a different hiring pool,” said Steve Harmon, senior director of legal services, who is overseeing the new program. “Historically, it’s been difficult for companies like Cisco to hire students right out of law school because they lack the necessary training. But the right type of training isn’t happening in law firms.”
Law firms tend to take a “no stone unturned” approach, whereas in-house attorneys examine legal problems with efficiency and cost in mind, Harmon said.
He envisions providing a range of experiences for the Colorado students, from working with engineers to identify patent ideas to using technology to find efficiencies in high-volume work in the department’s legal operations section.
The idea of corporate legal departments hiring law students or recent graduates isn’t entirely new. Hewlett-Packard Co. began hiring new law graduates in 2010, as has International Business Machines Corp. in recent years.
Some corporate legal departments already open their doors to law students for internships or externships, but those opportunities are far outnumbered by internships with judges, government agencies, legal services organizations and law firms, said Luke Bierman, associate dean for experiential education at Northeastern University School of Law. Of the 850 legal employers involved with Northeastern’s innovative co-op program — where students spend a cumulative year working full time in four different legal environments — only about 10 percent are corporate legal departments, he said.
“I do think, traditionally, corporate legal departments were relatively small, a lot of their work was farmed out and they were fairly insular,” Bierman said. “It’s a relatively recent development that they are expanding their interests, and bringing in students or people from the outside is more culturally acceptable.”
Lawyers typically spend three to five years working at a firm before landing a job in Credit Suisse’s legal department, said managing counsel Andy Hutcher. But in January the department will welcome 10 or more second-year students from New York Law School into its new general counsel academy program. They will work part time at Credit Suisse next semester and some may work full time throughout the summer.
“The vision is that some of the 2Ls will do so well here that we will include them in a second year of the program, but we’ll take this one year at a time,” Hutcher said. “If that goes well, we hope to find roles for some of these students when they graduate. Law schools still tend to send most of their graduates to law firms, and we want to show some students an alternative path.”
Morgan Stanley’s legal department is still figuring out how its Bridge to Practice program will work, but it will focus on giving recent graduates a year of real-world work experience, said chief legal officer Eric Grossman, who also serves on the city bar’s task force.
“Even before the task force, I’ve been thinking about ways to, frankly, help young lawyers,” said Grossman, who added that the company hopes to offer temporary slots to upwards of 10 recent graduates a year. “Our goal is to give folks actual experience, and ideally it will help people who don’t already have jobs lined up.”
Working with a freshly minted lawyer like Blumert is nothing new for Diamonds International general counsel Elchonon Shagalov. He’s been hiring students right out of Cardozo — his alma mater — for years. But the school’s Resident Associate Mentor Program has made hiring new graduates more attractive by formalizing the process, he said. Cardozo’s career services office gets information about job openings to students, collects applications and helps employers screen candidates.
“For us, [Cardozo's program] was a win-win situation,” Shagalov said. “Law schools should do more to place students in legal departments. I believe there is an untapped market there.”
Blumert agrees. “There are obviously a lot of ways to get into law firm or public service jobs, but I feel like everyone in the middle gets lost,” she said, adding that the programs “seem like a good way to get in-house or into a boutique firm.”
Contact Karen Sloan at firstname.lastname@example.org.