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Could 3L Tuition Waiver Have Unintended Consequences?

Like Orin, my initial reaction to Harvard Law School's announcement of a tuition waiver for 3Ls who choose to work in public interest law for five years after graduation is a neat idea. Insofar as HLS is a trendsetter in legal education, this decision could induce other law schools to attempt similar measures (insofar as they can afford it). But could this policy have unintended consequences? UCLA economist Matthew Kahn thinks it might. Specifically, he thinks it could reduce the number of female HLS grads who become partners at large firms.

If women have a higher probability of accepting this new offer then men, and if once you pick this path you can't return to the private sector and make partner then my proof is complete that an unintended consequence of this new policy will be to reduce the number of women from HLS who get promoted to partner at the fancy NYC law firms.

Now , you may counter that these women weren't at the margin. You might say that the liberal women who want to enter public law were never at risk to prove Larry Summers wrong. You may be right but this subsidy doesn't help.

A key assumption in Kahn's prediction is that female law students, on the margin, will be more likely to accept the HLS offer than male students. Is this a reasonable assumption? For instance, is there empirical data suggesting that women are more inclined either a) to work in the public interest sector than men, or b) to seek alternatives to the traditional partner track? If not, is general research on political differences between men and women enough to support this assumption? And if Kahn's assumption is valid, if the new policy enables more women to pursue their desired career path, wouldn't that be a good thing? I'd be interested in the thoughts of those who know something about these issues.

UPDATE: More on Harvard's new policy at Law School Innovation.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Could 3L Tuition Waiver Have Unintended Consequences?
  2. Harvard to Waive 3L Tuition For Students in Public Interest Law for Five Years:
Guest12345:
I've not read the article, but those two if's are pretty big aren't they? I mean "If X, then X." Seems logical, but also not very useful for predictive purposes.
3.18.2008 8:12pm
Kent Scheidegger (mail) (www):
FWIW, more women than men apply for the fellowship at the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation.
3.18.2008 8:17pm
frankcross (mail):
I think it is a little shabby to make a gender stereotyping assumption after admitting that one has "no evidence" to support it.
3.18.2008 8:17pm
An-0-n (mail):
Not necessarily. Suppose a woman enters government service in the DOJ and returns after five years into the private sector. She has a much higher chance of making partner than any joe schmoe climbing the ladder and who is later forced out at year (8). This would especially be true coming from harvard, where many DOJ attorneys come from. All about the CV guys.
3.18.2008 8:28pm
An-0-n (mail):
Not necessarily. Suppose a woman enters government service in the DOJ and returns after five years into the private sector. She has a much higher chance of making partner than any joe schmoe climbing the ladder and who is later forced out at year (8). This would especially be true coming from harvard, where many DOJ attorneys come from. All about the CV guys.
3.18.2008 8:28pm
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):

my proof is complete that an unintended consequence of this new policy will be to reduce the number of women from HLS who get promoted to partner at the fancy NYC law firms.


well, then it seems the applicant has to make up their mind as to where they are going to go- or do we pass a law to make it "fair"- spread the risk to those who choose not to enter the program and have them shoulder some of the responsibility.

this is why I'm opposed to these kind of things.
3.18.2008 8:31pm
CEB:
I don't have any evidence to support this, but if college professors have a higher probability than non-college professors of making tautological arguments on blogs, then any incentive program to increase the number of college professors will have the unintended consequence of an increase in the number of tautological arguments posted on blogs.
3.18.2008 8:35pm
BU2L:
Is 40,000 really going to change the mind of 3Ls? From an economic point of view, taking a PI or government job for $50-60k vs a $160k BigLaw job, $40k < $100k.

Unless, you think of the satisfaction of working in PI/Gov for most margin candidates were approximately $110k, and really, it was that last $40k that was making the difference.

While a good thought, will this really impact PI/Gov job choices?
3.18.2008 8:38pm
hattio1:
I would second what An-0-n says. Of the two assumptions, that public interest law destroys your ability to make partner seems the more unlikely one to me. I'm not sure I'd even agree that it makes it less likely, but "can't return to the private sector and make partner?" That strikes me as extremely unlikely.
3.18.2008 8:46pm
David Smith:
I must have missed something.

And the reason why it is bad to have a situation where individuals (yes, women are composed of individuals too, much like Black people and even White people) find the attractiveness of an alternative to doing the partner track at a law firm increased is...?
3.18.2008 8:50pm
ummm:
This is just a special application of the following (tautological) argument:

If women on average are less inclined to undertake the activities needed to be a partner at a fancy law firm, there will be fewer women partner's at fancy law firms.

The interesting question is not whether this is the case, but whether the "activities needed to be a partner at a fancy law firm" are appropriate.

Should having a Y chromosome be required? Plainly not.
Should sleeping with senior partners be needed? Plainly not.
Should being an aggressive, thick-skinned, and argumentative person be needed? Hopefully not.
Should working inhuman hours with no family life be needed? Maybe yes, maybe no.

If these questions are addressed, then we shouldn't care how many women end up as partners at fancy law firms. If they are left unaddressed, I don't think providing women with an attractive alternative to firm life is so bad.
3.18.2008 8:50pm
Devin McCullen (mail):
Another thought (from a non-lawyer who has no clue about hiring practices) - if more women from HLS go into public interest law, might the big law firms hire the same number of women, to be/appear diverse, but from a wider range of schools? So a penalty for HLS students, but a benefit to female lawyers in general. (Or at least those who want to be a BigLaw partner.)
3.18.2008 8:51pm
David Smith:
To amplify my prior point:

There is an implication that the reason why there are fewer women who are partners is irrelevant. Whether it's because of discrimination or because a substitute has become more attractive is irrelevant.

Sorry, that is complete BS.
3.18.2008 8:56pm
Randy R. (mail):
Why is it necessary to have more women as partners in big law firms? I mean, maybe that's a good thing. But on the other hand, maybe it's a good thing that women don't feel they have to become partners.

Everything has consequences, many of them unintended. The question is whether you navel gaze yourself into paralysis.
3.18.2008 8:58pm
JBL:
Even if women are more likely to chose PI over biglaw partnership, there's the possibility that this program either induces or enables more women to attend HLS. The increased number of women at HLS may increase the number of female biglaw partners even if it reduces their percentage.

My sense is that there may be reasons to think that women have a greater tendency to choose careers that are less financially lucrative but more rewarding in other respects, but this program is not likely to affect that decision.

I also think that even if this particular unintended consequence is true, it is minor relative to the program's intended consequences.
3.18.2008 9:08pm
OrinKerr:
It's certainly possible that the program will have that effect; but why is it an "unintended consequence"? The intent of the program is to lead more people to do public interest and government work; presumably that means more women, as well, and thus fewer women at big firms.
3.18.2008 9:10pm
OrinKerr:
I don't get this claim from the original post:
So, suppose that you are smart woman at HLS and you accept this offer. After 5 years in public service, can you join a fancy NYC law firm and 8 years later be promoted to partner? I doubt it.
Um, why not? I would think this group is particularly well suited to becoming partners if that's what they want to do.
3.18.2008 9:12pm
Bravo:
One possible consequence is that women who really want to make partner will have better chances than they do now.

1. Harvard's policy results in fewer women entering law firms. [Supply of female private attorneys decreases]

2. Law firms want to maintain current levels of female partners. [Demand is inelastic]

3. Accordingly, compared to current numbers, a greater fraction of women who enter law firms will be promoted to partner.


Right?
3.18.2008 9:19pm
More importantly...:
Dear HLS,

You give me 3L tuition (not room, not board, not books, and not "living expenses"--i.e., enough booze to drown the misery of being around other HLSers). This allows me to avoid borrowing money at historically low interest rates.

I give up half a decade of real money, to work a miserable job with no support staff, no objective community value (I can't wait to proudly explain that I represent indignent aliens seeking asylum), and, oh, did I remember to mention, no real money.

GREAT! Sign me up!
3.18.2008 9:26pm
Legal Eagleburger (mail):
For what it's worth, at my Legal Aid office in a southwestern PA county, we have 4 attorneys, all male, 3 of whom have graduated within the last 5 years.

In fact, in the past 8 years, I believe there have been 2 female attorneys in the office--the remainder were men.

Might that HLS plan have more fervently tempted us men to do public work? I dunno.

But it does seem to indicate that this "females are more likely to do public interest law" stereotype is far too broad.
3.18.2008 9:38pm
Sean M:
I think the unintended consequence here is that it forces law students to choose a career path and stick to it, essentially, at what -- the end of 2L year?

With a loan repayment program, one can simply drop out of the program and take a new job. But with this program, if one "drops out," one is required to pay back the tuition. Now, perhaps the lost gains in dropping out of a repayment program and the money that needs to be paid back in the waiver program are the same economically, but few people have cash on hand to just hand over the $40,000 when it comes due.

Thus, the repayment becomes a five-year binding commitment to the public interest job. It unduly narrows student opportunities. It's like "early admission" in college admissions where you get a faster decision but are bound to attend that college; it's great for those who really want to do it, but bad for those who are on the fence and feel pressured to make a binding decision on what they want to do for a job NOW as opposed to giving themselves flexibility.
3.18.2008 9:38pm
Guest101:

So, suppose that you are smart woman at HLS and you accept this offer. After 5 years in public service, can you join a fancy NYC law firm and 8 years later be promoted to partner? I doubt it.

Well, no, because for one thing, you'd be up for partner in three years. Kahn clearly has no idea how the law firm partnership track works. A woman who, say, clerked for two years and then worked in the DOJ, the local U.S. Attorney's Office, or even the local D.A.'s office (assuming all of those things would qualify as public/government service under Harvard's policy, and I can't see why they wouldn't) would come in with five years' seniority toward partnership already. It's probably true that there are certain kinds of public interest work that might close the Biglaw door after five years of practice (Skadden and Cleary are not likely to hire someone who has been working for, say, a small non-profit for 5 years, I wouldn't think, but that assumption may well be incorrect and is almost certainly flexible depending on the applicant), but any Harvard grad with strong academic performance who wants to put in the requisite 5 years and then transition to Biglaw should have no problem crafting a career path to allow that.
3.18.2008 10:00pm
Guest101:
Sean M,

I'm not sure your assumptions are correct. Is the $40,000 due all at once, the moment the person leaves public interest work for private practice? Even if so, clerkship bonuses alone are currently at $50,000 for a one-year clerkship and $70,000 for a two-year in the Biglaw market, and assuming two or three years' seniority, the person would be starting out at around $180k/year or so; under those circumstances I wouldn't think that repaying the $40,000 would be impossible. Granted, this program might deter someone from transitioning from public service into a lower-paying private practice position, but I can't see how that relatively minor opportunity cost undermines the appeal of the program.
3.18.2008 10:06pm
Bama 1L:
This program might diminish the "firm corps" phenomenon: top law students who really want to do public interest but feel they must serve a few years as biglaw associates in order to get their debt down to manageable levels and can then afford to work in PI (or academia, or politics, or anything else that does not pay like biglaw). So the upshot could be decreased biglaw associate attrition, because a lot of law students who currently get into biglaw knowing they plan to leave could just not get into it at all. That could be good for everyone.

Frankly, though, I wonder whether many law students are well-situated to make this decision the summer after 2L. Unless I were very sure that I wanted to go into PI, I would not want to narrow my possibilities so decisively.
3.18.2008 10:12pm
mkl:
Notwithstanding the gender balance, this ought overall reduce the number of HLS grads going to large firms, and thereby the number of partners, managing partners etc. over the long term. Which would, again, over the very long term, reduce support for, and the prestige of, HLS. But boy, is that a small marginal difference and a long, long term.

Now, in the short run, does this benefit HLS by making it more attractive to candidates who might have seen it as a one-way ticket to scrivening subprime CDO prospectuses? I'd expect they considered this before announcing the program.
3.18.2008 10:19pm
PGofHSM (mail) (www):
I agree with all those who recognize that having actual litigation experience will be a big plus, not a minus, in getting a litigation partnership at a law firm. This is particularly true in D.C., where there's practically a revolving door between public interest jobs at the FTC, SEC, DOJ etc. and senior associate and partner positions in private law firms, where clients are happy to have a lawyer who knows how the government sees things. However, I would caution about turning some Legal Aid careers into a partnership, because it may have been spent more on lobbying for clients to receive assistance (e.g., in the Health Law unit). But other parts give great experience on writing briefs and making arguments in trial and appellate courts (e.g., in the immigration and civil rights units).

Legal Eagleburger,

What's the overall percentage of practicing attorneys in your southwestern PA county who are women? If you live in a more rural area with relatively traditional gender attitudes, it may not produce/ attract many female attorneys in either public interest or for-profit work.
3.18.2008 10:26pm
Gaius Marius:
So what is the problem?
3.18.2008 10:34pm
Duncan Frissell (mail):
Students who pledge to work for five years in a qualifying public service job

I wonder if HLS will include Right Wing and Libertarian Public Interest firms in the program?
3.18.2008 10:55pm
Dave N (mail):
I am reading these numbers and thinking to myself: Is BigLaw insane? I have spent my entire career in public law and while the BigLaw money is nice, I actually have a life that does not revolve around 2200 billable hours a year--in fact I don't bill hours at all and actually have weekends, holidays, and even evenings off.
3.18.2008 11:22pm
UW2L:
Maybe the people, women or men, who want to go into public interest law and thus will jump at this offer don't measure their success by making partner at Cravath. If you can imagine. And, Duncan, I sure hope HLS also envisions fresh grads going straight to work at IJ or similar.

And anyway, five years is a while, but it's really not that long. This HLS plan isn't a life sentence. I lack the experience to say whether you can never make partner if you don't start in Biglaw right out of the gate, but the legal profession is a career that can last your whole life. You can move among firm, nonprofit, government, solo practice, and academia during that time - and as a grad of HLS, there are a lot of open doors. You can come to do good for five years and stay to do well for the next thirty, if that's your angle. Life is long. The post yesterday about staying intellectually curious and vital at 50 is a reminder of that.

And how selfish to focus only on how going with HLS's new plan could be "detrimental" to women's careers. (Not to mention patronizing, Mister Kahn. It puts me in mind of the argument that women should be "given" fewer slots in law school because they'll just drop out anyway and so they're wasting slots that could have gone to men.) Graduates from a top law school are going to spend five years using their educations to benefit the people and communities who are served by public interest law organizations (a benefit which, by the way, extends to the whole country), and Kahn's worried about negative consequences for the grads? With this kind of mindset, no wonder the Marrero Committee's suggestions went over like a fart in church.
3.18.2008 11:38pm
procrastinating clerk (mail):

Frankly, though, I wonder whether many law students are well-situated to make this decision the summer after 2L. Unless I were very sure that I wanted to go into PI, I would not want to narrow my possibilities so decisively.


Maybe eliminating indecisive students is a feature of the plan rather than a bug. Instead of just rewarding whoever ends up in public service with loan repayment, they are actually seeking out those that will commit to doing public service work in advance.
3.18.2008 11:40pm
Legal Eagleburger (mail):
PGofHSM:

The Legal Services program is a multi-county one, encompassing 4 SW PA counties. Two are rural, but those offices only have one attorney in them.

The two urban/city offices, handling almost 4000 cases of varying types from family to consumer, bankruptcy to housing, have a total of 13 attorneys. Five of those are women.

The gender breakdown for my county's bar (a fairly small bar--less than 100) is certainly more male than female, as traditionally was the case. However, the hiring for our program is not done in our office, but in the OTHER urban office, where the local bar's male-female ratio is much more equal.

And that main office is in the fastest-growing county in SW PA, and most of those attorneys live in Pittsburgh or Allegheny County.
3.19.2008 12:17am
Cold Warrior:
A reality check for those wondering about the market for new HLS grads:

1. New HLS 3rd year public interest tuition forgiveness program = 5-10 extra grads per year going into "public service."

2. Massive layoffs on Wall St beginning, umm, right about now = 100-200 extra grads per year going into "public service."

Advice to a lot of you bottom 50%ers finishing up your second year: sign up now! You'll look altruistic! I gave up the big bucks because I really, really wanted to defend against frivolous prisoner lawsuits in the DOJ Civil Division!

Wait till your Wall St firm doesn't make you the offer after your summer associateship and you'll just look like a plain old loser!!

[Believe me, I've seen this before. You kids are too young to remember what a recession is.]
3.19.2008 1:31am
partner (mail):
Based on everything I know after about 30+ years in the law firm game, the notion that people who spend a handful of years doing public interest law will make partner in a big private firm ("fancy NYC firm") are vanishingly close to zero. In fact, I'm surprised anyone would think otherwise, even for a minute. Those firms have tournaments and making partner is for (1) those who compete in the tournament for many years, and (2) those with big books of business. You don't bring in public interest lawyers to make them partner.

Exceptions can be made for a very few AUSA's with star written all over them, but even then they would come over as salaried "partners" working for those who made partnership the traditional way. But, "public interest lawyers" making partner at fancy NYC firms? C'mon.
3.19.2008 2:56am
A.C.:
This looks like a way to get more HLS grads into public service jobs. But it doesn't actually create any more public service jobs, so this means the students who currently get them would lose out.

Do we really want Harvard grads to be first in line in even more places? I certainly don't. Sticking them all in New York strikes me as a plus -- then I don't have to worry about them.
3.19.2008 6:16am
Kenvee:
So once again we're hearing the argument that it doesn't matter what an individual woman wants to do with her career, what matters is that "women" aren't being sufficiently served. If more women are able to use this program to do what they want with their careers, shouldn't that be more important than some arbitrary decision that we don't have "enough" women partners in BigLaw?

Granted, such a program wouldn't have done me a bit of good, as I had a completely different career path in mind when I was a 2L. My only hope is that the loan forgiveness for prosecutors and public defenders program they've been kicking around Congress will actually pass. ;)
3.19.2008 10:14am
TruePath (mail) (www):
Sigh, one would think that what would matter is how likely people are to get to do what they want but for some reason people seem unable to grasp this topic except at the level of group statistics.

For instance consider the common complaints over female representation in math and sciences. Despite a few retrogade implications of discrimination it seems quite clear that this effect is primarily the result of subtle social factors not overt discrimination or disparagement (not to say there aren't some incidents). In other words women are underrepresented in math and science because they are somehow induced (socially conditioned/innate/whatever) to be less interested in these areas. But if women are actually doing what makes them happy whatever the cause that wouldn't constitute any gender imbalance that deserves to be fixed.

Of course it is a complex tough problem to answer whether in fact women are being triked into doing things that make them less happy (or maybe men are) but if people can't get over the straight up percentages how can we even effectively ask this question. Unfortunately people have a great deal of trouble disentangling the question of what they find impressive as a career and what it is a good idea for people to do. Grad school may be impressive but it's far from clear it makes most people who take that option happier overall.

----

Ultimately when you get to the sort of subtle feedback between someone's personality and society we see in things like women and math/science the notion of gender fairness/equity/discrimination simply aren't well defined. These terms presuppose a fixed actor whose desires are either thwarted or aided but when those desires themselves are subtly shifted by society the concepts just don't make sense.

Yet more evidence that the real focus should be on what yields the most utility. Unnecessary barriers of any kind create suffering for no reason. No need to muck with all this complexity.
3.19.2008 10:38am
TerrencePhilip:
Based on everything I know after about 30+ years in the law firm game, the notion that people who spend a handful of years doing public interest law will make partner in a big private firm ("fancy NYC firm") are vanishingly close to zero. In fact, I'm surprised anyone would think otherwise, even for a minute. Those firms have tournaments and making partner is for (1) those who compete in the tournament for many years, and (2) those with big books of business. You don't bring in public interest lawyers to make them partner.

Exceptions can be made for a very few AUSA's with star written all over them, but even then they would come over as salaried "partners" working for those who made partnership the traditional way. But, "public interest lawyers" making partner at fancy NYC firms? C'mon.


Partner, it is unrealistic to think that someone is going to do 5 years at Legal Aid and lateral over to partner at your firm, but don't firms sometimes hire associates with a few years public service and classify them as 2d or 3d-year associates? If those people meet your production goals, aren't they considered just like everyone else?

But your point is well taken. People go to law school for lots of reasons but the money available to grads of top schools is obviously one of them. If you take yourself off that track, 5 years out of law school you are much less likely to decide that you are ready to get in the law-firm tournament, particularly if you have gotten married and/or had kids. And a firm may like the experience a public interest lawyer gets, but that experience is not the equivalent of what is expected of an associate.

I'd be curious to know how many lateral hires at large firms come from public agencies.
3.19.2008 11:03am
Allan (mail):
The HLS policy is essentially a tax on those who choose not to go into the public sector, i.e., those who pay full freight.

Generally speaking, most people would rather go into the public sector than to Wall Street. The job satisfaction level is the same. The work environment is much better (generally you don't get berated by your superiors). The hours are better. You don't need to worry about fees. You get better work, faster.

For those who want to raise their children (as opposed to having a nanny do it), public law is a very good choice.

On the other hand, you don't make over $100,000 to start. And you don't have the great perks.

So, if someone were to offer a 33% reduction of tuition fees, yes, I think it would be an incentive.

I have always viewed large law firms as subsidizing their new attorneys' law school. They pay a significant amount of money for summer associates and start their associates at salaries that make paying $120,000 in loans palatable. Perhaps they should also pay some of the freight for those who want to go in the public sector.

There is another benefit. Those from the top of the class who go into public sector work open slots at high paying jobs for those slightly lower in the class.
3.19.2008 11:28am
dbett (mail):
What does Larry Summers have to do with female lawyers?

Jeez, the man's been demonized enough for what he ACTUALLY SAID (that women may have less inate ability to excel in certain scientific fields, while having great inate abilities in other fields). There's no need to make up stuff.
3.19.2008 11:31am
Brian G (mail) (www):
This makes me laugh because in law school so many people talked about being community lawyers, lawyers for the poor, etc, but in the end they comepted and worried about getting a job at the top firms and could not give a damn about "public service."

If there are less women as partners because they choose public interest work, my thought is, "so what?" That's the problem with the diversity whores, the numbers are everything and the reality means nothing. I think the world will be OK if some women who could have been partners at top firms instead choose to do good work for others, but that's just me.
3.19.2008 12:15pm
Randy R. (mail):
"Wait till your Wall St firm doesn't make you the offer after your summer associateship and you'll just look like a plain old loser!! "

This is true. When I worked at my crappy low end federal agency in the early 90s, we had a recession, and we were flooded with job applications. The qualifications of these people were amazing -- JD from Chicago, MBA from Harvard, federal clerkships, associate positions at Jones Day, or Squire Sanders, or some other big firm.

We really had a good laugh reading the cover letters. Invariably, they would say that they enjoyed their stint in the private sector, but now would like to try their hand at serving the public, because they truly would love to see how government works and have a lot to offer.

We turned every one of them down. But I bet they didn't realize how lucky they were to be turned down!
3.19.2008 12:19pm
Bama 1L:
I'd be curious to know how many lateral hires at large firms come from public agencies.

Maybe NALP collects this data. I can offer anecdotes, though.

In reading hundreds of biglaw attorneys' profiles as interview prep, the only people I found with PI experience were a very few former AUSAs (now doing white-collar defense), regulators (now working on the industry side), and politicians/state-court judges (whose term in office was clearly mid-career and certainly helped them amass a good book of business). I also found a couple people who had spent time as legislative aides, although I think that was before graduating law school.

I did not find anyone at all with a legal aid, PD, or state prosecutor line. No one listed anything at all that involved saving children, protecting consumers, or helping indigent defendants.

I concluded that, at least in the markets I canvassed, there is simply no way to move from the PI track to the firm track, with a narrow exception for those who do a brief stint in certain government activities.
3.19.2008 12:23pm
theobromophile (www):
A key assumption in Kahn's prediction is that female law students, on the margin, will be more likely to accept the HLS offer than male students. Is this a reasonable assumption?

Perhaps women are more risk-averse than men and would prefer this line. Perhaps they place more emphasis on quality of life, ability to have a family, etc., than do men. Some of them (and I'm going to get totally attacked for this, I know) firmly believe that their husbands, or soon-to-be husbands, will provide for them, so they can afford to take the public interest job.

Random question: What happens to women who work in the public sector for three years, then get pregnant and want to stay at home? Do they owe 40% of their 3L tuition to the school? Harvard's policy may disproportionately benefit men, as they may be less worried about taking time off between graduation and 5 years after graduation.
3.19.2008 1:18pm
Rab01:
The idea that doing public interest work makes it impossible to make partner at a big law firm is ludicrous. In fact, I remember one litigation partner telling me that he'd been ordered to accept a particular public interest opportunity (in his 7th year!) if he wanted to make partner. Admittedly, that defintion of public interest includes working for the government but I think that's a totally reasonable definition of public interest.

If a lawyer wants to work at Habitat for Humanity and then switch to a big law firm and make partner, it can be done. The person just cannot expect to get full credit for the years at Habitat because their legal training to date has very little applicability to the work they will be doing. Also, before getting hired, the applicant might have to allay some concerns as to whether he or she is temperamentally unsuited to big firm work.

I think everyone on this Board who is currently at a "Big Firm" or (like me) used to work at one of those firms, will agree that working at such firms ages you in dog years. Getting even three years of credit for 5 spent in the public sector is a good trade.

As for "Partner's" statement about big books of business being a requisite for partnership, I think there's a huge amount of truth to that but not at the decision point of most 8th years. No one can have real pull as a partner without their own book of business but almost no associate being considered for partner has a portable book of business yet. Associates generally do not bring in de novo business to fancy NY firms and the partners for whom they work generally keep the client relationships. At best, associates can work well enough with their clients that those clients grow to like working with them. For senior associates, those relationships can become good enough that clients will go with them for some matters if they leave the Firm but it's pretty damn rare for junior associates (1-4 years) to be forming even that kind of relationship. Moreover, at the partnership meeting, the billing partner for that client will NEVER admit that an associate has that kind of relationship with HIS client. As for it being a tournament at which you must compete for many years, the partners I know don't give a damn. They want to know at the moment of deciding partnership whether someone has what they think it takes to be a partner. They don't bother to learn the names of the junior associates because they disappear too quickly. They do, however, know the names of all the senior associates in their department and have a pretty good idea of which ones they will consider for partnership after working with them once or twice. For example, if you're a litigator and work a major trial with a partner, he or she will have a very settled opinion of your potential to be partner by the end of that trial. It won't matter at that point whether you spent the first years of your career at the UN or spent them at the firm.
3.19.2008 1:42pm
AnneS (www):
Theo - Because nothing says risk averse like taking the road less traveled :) Seriously, there are few things LESS risky than for an HLS grad to go to a BigFirm (TM) straight out of school. And as for the women who want to stay home after having a baby less than five years out of school - it's better than having to pay back 100% of the 3L tuition, plus accrued interest. (Full disclosure - I do plan on having a baby less than five years out of school, but I was thirty when I graduated and won't be staying home since my husband is a teacher. Lack of foresight on my part, I guess.)

Count me with the people who think the concern that this program will lead to fewer women partners is silly. The vast majority of lawyers never become partners in BigLaw firms and never feel the lack of it. Those who do make partner really want it. They are probably not the same people who want to go into public service/public interest law straight out of law school. This program will capture the people who (a) would have gone into public serivce/public interest law regardless OR (b) would have spent a few years in a big firm, then left before making partner. The women who have the desire and ability to make partner are probably not going to be diverted by this program, any more than similarly situated men will be.
3.19.2008 1:56pm
hattio1:
More importantly says;

I give up half a decade of real money, to work a miserable job with no support staff, no objective community value


Something tells me that if you see no objective community value in Public Interest law, you are not the kind of person who should be going into public interest law.

And does anyone else think Personal Injury when they see PI law?
3.19.2008 2:06pm
ronnie dobbs (mail):
Partner had it right. There are only two ways to make partner at a Biglaw firm: (1) be a rainmaker; or (2) be a grinder. (1) is primarily about luck and personality. (2) is a journey through a soul-sucking abyss (on a good day). In my experience at a Biglaw shop, there were a lot more (2)'s than (1)'s, meaning that making partner is, more often than not, not a good way to spend one's limited time on the planet (unless of course you (a) have no family and don't want one, (b) don't like your family and/or (c) have no interests outside of work). Given all this, I say, the fewer Biglaw partners the better--male, female or other.
3.19.2008 2:32pm
partner (mail):
In response to TerrencePhillip and Rab01,

I agree that the very small group of "public interest lawyers" who can switch to big firms and make partners includes outstanding AUSAs (as I originally said) and outstanding lawyers at very important governement agencies (e.g., DOJ, SEC, EPA). Notice that this is a new and greatly expanded definition of the term "public interest lawyer," but the key is that we agree on the facts.

Rather than continue with merely contradicting others, I will retire from this itneresting debate with one last, "it is extremely rare for people to move from the traditional public interest slots into partnership track at 'fancy NYC firms' and other leveraged elite firms."
3.19.2008 2:36pm
Jess:
AC:


This looks like a way to get more HLS grads into public service jobs. But it doesn't actually create any more public service jobs, so this means the students who currently get them would lose out.

Do we really want Harvard grads to be first in line in even more places? I certainly don't. Sticking them all in New York strikes me as a plus -- then I don't have to worry about them.


Can we agree that there are too many lawyers in the USA? The way to correct this situation is for the lower tier to find other employment.
3.20.2008 1:25am
A.C.:
Oh, there are probably some lawyers who would be better suited to other professions, but there are plenty of perfectly good ones who aren't in the top of the class at Harvard. They may be better practitioners than academics, they may have family ties to a particular geographic area, or they may have chosen state schools for economic reasons. A bunch of carpetbaggers from Cambridge may not be particularly welcome in their midst, especially if the Harvard kids lack community ties and behave as if public interest is a career move rather than a real commitment.
3.20.2008 9:55am
Don Meaker (mail):
Harvard has suffient endowments that it needs no tuition at all. The only reason why they charge tuition at all is to be able to collect scholarship money from the government.

This is like many welfare payments; It pushes the scholarship kids out of the more lucrative jobs, leaving Big Law open for the legacy kids.
3.21.2008 11:29pm