Jill Backer, associate director of Employer Relations at Brooklyn Law School Career Center.
Jill Backer, associate director of Employer Relations at Brooklyn Law School Career Center. (Monika Kozak/NYLJ)

Thomas Carpenter, general counsel of the American Federation of Tele­vision and Radio Artists, doubted he had time to oversee a law student extern when Jill Backer, associate director of employer relations at Brooklyn Law School, came calling in 2007.

Her visit paid off: Carpenter has hosted an extern from the law school every semester since and offered two of them full-time jobs.

Backer has been a pioneer in direct outreach to employers since arriving at Brooklyn Law in 2002. These days, she has plenty of company. The two-year-old Employer Outreach Section of NALP (the National Association for Law Placement) is the organization’s fastest growing arm, now boasting about 300 members.

“I think that’s a reflection of the growing importance of employer outreach in law schools,” said section chairman Chris Smith, assistant dean for career services at Elon University School of Law.

“Legal recruiting shifted with the recession,” he said. “The traditional model of law schools being able to depend on alumni, for example, to generate recruiting activity, changed. Law schools recognized that they needed to be more proactive in going out and creating and reinforcing recruiting relationships with legal employers of various types.”

Since the 2008 recession, when large law firms cut back on new associate hiring, roughly two dozen law schools have created positions like Backer’s that focus exclusively on employer relations rather than student career counseling. Many more have given employer-relations duties to their existing career services staff.

As for Carpenter, he went on to hire two of his Brooklyn externs full time at the American Federation of Tele­vision and Radio Artists, which merged with the Screen Actors Guild in 2012. Carpenter has continued to host Brooklyn students since assuming the general counsel post at Actors’ Equity more than a year ago.

“I was hesitant about taking on someone on a regular basis, but talking it through with Jill helped me think about the ways I could bring on a law student who would help me, and how I could manage that student and make sure they had a good experience,” Carpenter said.

Recent Brooklyn graduate Wendy LaManque said she had a good experience externing for Carpenter not once, but twice. He even recommended her for her associate job at New York union-side labor law firm Cohen Weiss and Simon, the Actors’ Equity outside counsel.

“Labor law is a small community. Of course you have to be prepared and have a strong ré sumé , but you also need to know people,” LaManque said. “We don’t have the Harvard name brand, but people are slowly realizing that Brooklyn is a really good school, and it takes people like [Backer] to be excited, reach out to employers, and make it happen.”

BEST PRACTICES

In line with the level of interest, NALP is developing a set of best practices for employer outreach as members share notes about what works and what doesn’t, Smith said. In flusher times, law schools could wait for legal recruiters to come to them, but those days have passed. Schools understand that they need to go directly to employers, said Donna Davis, assistant dean of career development at Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Cleveland.

The school takes a national approach: Each year, it polls students about the top three locations where they would like to practice, along with favored practice areas. The staff then creates an outreach schedule. Those trips might include alumni receptions or small dinners with employers, Davis said. Her office has made 140 employer outreach visits during the past year. “In the past, you did some employer outreach, mostly locally,” Davis said. “Every now and then you would go somewhere regionally. But now we go to California, New York, Boston, Chicago and Texas. We’re covering the country, and I think that’s really different from five years ago.”

Although Case Western has been in the game since before the recession, The John Marshall Law School in Chicago is a more recent entrant — in July 2012 it hired local attorney Nello Gamberdino for the newly created position of employer outreach coordinator. Like Backer, his job is to cultivate and maintain relationships with employers, said Margaret O’Mara Frossard, associate dean of professionalism and career strategy. Gamberdino’s background in the practice has proved useful; he has helped close to 100 alumni find jobs, externships or other career opportunities, Frossard said.

“We started the position because we saw, 1 1/2 years ago, what was happening with the job market, and we felt that we needed to jumpstart our connections,” she said. “I think it’s worked out beautifully for us.”

The way law schools handle employer relations varies, Backer said. For big-name law schools that steer high percentages of graduates into associate jobs at large firms, employer relations might entail coordinating on-campus interviews. Many ­lower-tier law schools target small and midsized law firms, government offices and corporate legal departments.

For Backer, keeping an eye on industry trends and identifying the market’s future is a key part of the job. For example, she realized a decade ago that compliance was becoming an in-demand area and that Brooklyn Law could position students for jobs in that area. This year alone, American Express Co. hired more than a dozen Brooklyn graduates to work in its compliance department.

“Spotting those trends and working those relationships until they come to fruition is the name of the game,” Backer said. “It’s a totally different skill set than a career counselor.” She is, she said, a saleswoman, pitching employers on the merits of Brooklyn students and graduates.

Rich McCarthy, general counsel of 3-D printer manufacturer MakerBot Industries LLC, didn’t require a hard sell, given that he’s a Brooklyn alumnus, but has found Backer a useful resource. McCarthy has hired one Brooklyn graduate in his small legal department and is considering taking an intern. “I know plenty of attorneys, but as far as what I’m looking for, it’s good to have a contact at the school,” he said.

CONSTANT MAINTENANCE

Effective employer outreach takes more than just securing a meeting. These relationships require continual maintenance — phones calls, emails, meetings, invitations to speak on campus. Backer regularly checks with Carpenter to ensure he is benefitting by his externs’ presence.

Because employer outreach is so time- and resource-intensive, Golden Gate University School of Law gets faculty members involved, according to associate dean of law career services & alumni services Susanne Aronowitz.

“It’s really a schoolwide effort, from the dean on down,” she said. “We’ve taken the approach of embedding it throughout the program, so it’s not only the responsibility of our office. We have a lot of lot of faculty who come to us with prior practice experience and a core of adjuncts who are still in practice, so we tap into that. Employer relations is everyone’s job.” One staff member acts as coordinator, she said.

Securing job opportunities for students has gotten tougher as the entry-level legal hiring market has constricted and as additional schools get serious about employer outreach, career-services administrators agreed. Golden Gate students now compete for jobs at small firms against graduates of larger San Francisco Bay Area schools who typically would have sought jobs at large firms, Aronowitz said. In the New York area, Backer reported the same dynamic.

For his part, Carpenter urged legal employers to answer when a law school comes calling. His relationship with Brooklyn Law School, he said, has been integral in finding the right student for the job. “The fact that Brooklyn has been proactive in reaching out to me — I feel like there is a culture aimed at giving their students any possible advantages,” he said. “And that’s good for employers as well.”

Contact Karen Sloan at ksloan@alm.com.