I’ve never been a fan of NALP, the National Association of Legal Professionals. So far as I’ve been able to tell, the organization focuses almost exclusively on supporting law school career offices in helping students get jobs at biglaw and promoting diversity within biglaw’s ranks. Even NALP’s public interest initiatives are aimed not at helping law students find public interest positions, but rather — you guessed it — helping biglaw firms identify public interest programs where they can place downsized associates.
Even though NALP never helped the majority of students find jobs, it’s never received much criticism. Until now. NALP’s policies on law school recruitment are coming under fire, not because they’re useless or even detrimental to many students, but rather, because they threaten biglaw’s hiring practices.
NALP wants large firm employers to put off hiring decisions until January and then, give students 14 days to make a decision. The NALP proposal represents a change from the current practice, whereby firms interview students before the start of second year of law school and allow 45 days for students to make decisions. In a recent opinion piece in the National Law Journal, Peter Kalis of K&L Gates criticizes both of NALP’s recommended practices, arguing that they unreasonably constrain biglaw’s flexibility over hiring decisions. As such, Kalis issues the battle cry to Abolish NALP Now, a charge that Bruce Macewen echoes with a lengthy post at Adam Smith.
As I said at the outset, I’m no fan of NALP. Because it serves only a small segment of the population, it fails to provide law school career offices with resources that would enable them to make other options – like government or public interest jobs or solo practice accessible to law students and alumni. So NALP has always been a huge waste of time and further, has done little to serve student interests. But naturally, no one ever thought to eliminate or criticize NALP until its actions started hurting biglaw.
Moreover, does biglaw really need protection from NALP? What about the law students who are issued offers, which are then deferred which are then revoked when they show up for work? Or law students holding their biglaw careers in abeyance while marching off to work at public interest jobs while waiting for the firm to bring them on board? Let’s face it. The present NALP system doesn’t do much to help students. It puts students in a situation where they’re forced to make job decisions months in advance of starting which is risky business in a volatile job market. And rather than help students identify biglaw alternatives when those jobs fall through, NALP encourages them to sit around a dead-end public interest job while waiting for a call to start work that might never come.
In looking at whether to eliminate NALP, we should be talking about students and young lawyers, not biglaw. Biglaw’s already hung young associates out to dry once, with mass layoffs that probably could have been avoided with firm-wide salary caps, termination of unproductive partners and of course, basic planning (did firms REALLY think they could keep charging $950/hr in a recession?) Now biglaw wants the freedom to issue and rescind offers at will without any repercussion.
Ultimately, in the smack down between NALP and biglaw, it’s law students and young lawyers who wind up on the sidelines. They say you don’t learn anything in law school, but this recent incident teaches one important lesson: if law students and young lawyers don’t look out for their own best interests, no one else will.