Law in Contemporary Society

Alternate Paths for Recent Graduates

-- By DanielAdewunmi - 06 Apr 2023

In my previous draft of this essay, I wrote about conversations with George Kendall. The central message was that law firms need to restructure their pro bono practices to better resemble the practice at Squire Patton Boggs. My thinking behind this sentiment was that firms would be better able to achieve substantial change in a certain area without additional research expenditure. Additionally, the theory was that this would result in increased training opportunities for junior associates and positive marketing for the firms as advocates for social change.

However, throughout the draft, I failed to consider the ultimate motivations of these Biglaw firms, profit. These are corporations and companies that may have some social and societal interests alongside their business interests, but ultimately their missions are to serve their clients in a way that maximizes their resources and increases their bottom line. Thus, the current structure of their pro bono practices may be more beneficial as associates are motivated to pursue these pro bono projects based on their own value system or their own desires for advancement and self-promotion.

Thus, in my second iteration of this draft, I have decided to shift the focus. Rather than centering on ways that Biglaw firms can modify their pro bono practices, I have decided to look more intently at the practices in George Kendall’s firm and the opportunities for JD Candidates at Columbia Law School to pursue such paths. Essentially, the focus is now on the feasibility of obtaining private public interest and plaintiff-side firm positions.

As a Columbia Law Student, legal career options are presented in a rather binary fashion. The options are carefully laid out and quite limited in scope. Students are able to pursue careers as junior associates at Biglaw firms, valuing the infrastructure provided along with the earning potential yet sacrificing their intellectual interests or values as well as committing to a complete lack of control over their time and priorities. Alternatively, students are able to pursue a career in the public interest sector choosing their morality or intellectual interests yet sacrificing significant financial potential and security.

However, I have found that Columbia Law School is omitting potential career options by presenting the possibilities in this way. Private public interest firms and plaintiff-side firms are opportunities that would seriously interest a large community of students at Columbia Law School. Yet it remains an avenue sparingly mentioned by professors and career advisors alike. In fact, everything that I have learned about private public interest firms and plaintiff-side firms has been through utilizing the public resources of other law schools, mainly Harvard.

I have been trying to theorize as to the reasons behind these omissions. In speaking to my peers, they have brought up the competitive nature of obtaining these positions, and the manner in which many of the attorneys in these positions are deeper into their careers. However, the competitive nature of clerkships has not been a deterrent in Columbia advertising the positions and aiding students in obtaining these clerkships. Additionally, although in-house positions are commonplace as lateral transitions for associates deeper in their careers, we as law students are informed of their viability and the nature of the work quite often.

Thus, I consider the relative scarcity of private public interest firms and plaintiff-side firms when compared to other sectors in the legal industry. However, Columbia Law School is considered an elite institution for legal education. If there is an area within the legal industry that aligns with the interests and values of its student body, I would not anticipate scarcity of positions or competition to obtain them to be a substantial deterrent. Especially when peers of Columbia Law School are providing their students with resources designed to facilitate their employment in these spaces.

Ultimately, I have come to have an interest in private public interest firms and plaintiff-side firms as a viable post-law school employment opportunity. Although the earning potential still pales in comparison to that at Biglaw firms, associates in these spaces still have access to increased earnings that would be more than sufficient as compared to potential public defender positions. Additionally, associates are able to benefit from an infrastructure that promotes their training and allows them to forego securing clients on their own without having to work on projects with which they may have a moral objection. These factors indicate the private public interest firms and plaintiff-side firms may be a desirable culture fit for many Columbia Law students, and I would implore the university to better enable its students to pursue these options.

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r3 - 30 May 2023 - 05:05:49 - DanielAdewunmi
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