June 2020

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Industry News Legal Management Updates

From Law School in the Age of the Coronavirus

Like the rest of our lives, the process of hiring a recent graduate has taken an unexpected turn. 

Eric Butterman
It’s usually an exciting time for both law school graduates and law firms. For one, it’s a chance to take all their dreams about the law and turn it into employment reality. For another, it’s an opportunity to add fresh energy and maybe even a future partner. 
But both have been altered by the pandemic, to say the least. Even getting to take the bar exam is in doubt — who ever thought worries about passing the bar would take a back seat to logistics? 
What’s a hiring manager to do? 


Start dates have moved for Fennemore Craig hires, according to Chief Talent Officer Bob Kramer, who oversees attorney recruitment, professional development, onboarding and retention. And even those start dates come with the caveat that they could be nudged further down the road. 
“Many law firms are seeing a strong downswing in work,” he says. “They have trouble finding enough work for their employees already in the door, let alone new hires. … We believe in transparency, so we just tell them the truth that a move to a January 1 start date doesn’t mean we’ll be able to do it by then.” 
This period has been a huge adjustment for graduates — many who expected to celebrate now must take a wait-and-see approach to multiple parts of their plan.

The Mountain West regional law firm, with offices in Arizona, Nevada and Colorado, is also leaving out the guilt for those who must consider looking elsewhere. “We let them know how much we want them but that we also understand if they ended up taking another opportunity,” he says. “They have loans to pay and bills to pay — it’s a difficult situation.”

As far as the bar goes, many firms will have to wait on certain directives outside their control, but not everyone is in a holding pattern. Luke Malek, Co-owner of business law firm Smith + Malek, says two hires are taking the bar right now in his state, Idaho. At the time of this article’s publication, Utah is even willing to waive the bar exam in some instances. With this ongoing situation, it’s critical to stay informed as each state makes adjustments and to stay in communication with your hires.
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Michael Scharf, Dean of the School of Law at Case Western Reserve University, can assure firm leaders when it comes to another concern — about the caliber of education graduates received in their last months when the coronavirus forced everyone off campus. “We are an experiential university,” he says. “But our professors worked hard to give them an online curriculum that would send them off on the right foot. We wanted to prepare them and leave them feeling confident.” 
Though video lectures and back-and-forth over a computer won’t exactly mirror the quick exchange of the Socratic method, Malek feels secure about not only law school educational adjustments but also technology’s involvement in hiring and even onboarding going forward. 
“For us, we are having a conversation on whether we even need an office to hire somebody,” says Malek, whose firm has used a Google platform for some of their interviewing. “We can offer flexibility, and do we need an office for someone to bring them on board?”
Regardless of a firm’s willingness to be flexible, its leaders must be understanding. This period has been a huge adjustment for graduates — many who expected to celebrate now must take a wait-and-see approach to multiple parts of their plan. It’s clear in his voice that Kramer, an attorney himself, feels for this graduating class. “When I graduated, you had so many offers,” he says. “This? There just hasn’t been anything like this.” 
Still, if you’re concerned that they won’t be ready, Malek can say that he’s been impressed so far by his recent hires. “Those we’ve hired have done a good job of staying resilient and positive,” he says. 
The truth is, being a lawyer means facing seemingly insurmountable odds at times — the workload, maneuverings and more. Malek, for one, looks forward to working with this tested class of 2020. 
“There are benefits that cannot be denied about working closely to other attorneys who have more experience when you’re an attorney starting out, and this changes the definition of what ‘closely’ means,” he says. “But so many graduates embrace technology and can teach us how to do it better. … The situation has changed the way a law firm is run. I believe they will help us with this process.”