A Message from the Dean
Dear Alumni and Friends:
A single question about the short run seems to be on everyone’s lips. Whenever I speak with alumni, read your emails, and talk with my colleagues both in Myron Taylor Hall and at law schools throughout the country, the first question I’m often asked is: “What is happening in the legal job market?”
Answers are still unclear. Here’s what we do know: the job market for our graduates and alumni is more challenging than at any time in recent memory, as we only begin to emerge from the “Great Recession.” Downsizing, outsourcing, centralization, and restructuring have all been mentioned as effects of this economic shift, but the causes are far from certain. Some speculate that the legal job market has fundamentally changed. While the relationship between elite law schools, large law firms, and major business clients is under stress, I am hesitant to be Chicken Little and say the sky is falling. In particular, I want to make sure Cornell Law School is providing short-term solutions to short-term issues and making long-term changes only in response to long-term shifts.
The next question I’m often asked demonstrates to me just how caring and connected our Cornell Law School community is. They ask, “How are our students doing?” My unwavering answer is that under very difficult circumstances, our students are demonstrating remarkable maturity and tenacity. Morale is still high and the quality of their work and commitment to legal training remains strong.
Our students are still bright, hardworking, inquisitive, and they very much want and expect a career that is fulfilling, challenging, and rewarding. Compared to prior years, many students are without job offers who remain understandably concerned for their future. These students are receiving extra hours of support from our Career Service and Public Service programs, and the compassion and encouragement shown to them by fellow students has been exemplary.
These two questions I’ve mentioned provide the editorial focus for this issue of the Forum, where we endeavor to take a realistic and objective view of the current legal economy and how Cornell Law School is helping students prepare for it. As you already know, or will soon read, times are starting to get better, but things may never be the same. With the staffing plans of most major firms and public sector groups in flux, the employment certainty we have enjoyed for so many years is not so certain any more. Our placement last year was remarkably good; 96% of graduates of the Class of 2010 had job offers at commencement, although there were a good number of deferred offers in this class. Unfortunately, prospects for this year’s class are not as good, although we currently stand strong compared to our peers. Sadly, the prospects for most American law school students at schools outside the Top 14 are far worse.
As we wait to see how the legal profession will transition to this new economy, our thoughts turn inward, towards self-examination. Are our graduates getting the right training? Does Cornell Law School offer the right mix of theory and practice that will best equip the 21st century lawyer to practice in this new legal economy? These are precisely the questions I posed to the Cornell Law School Advisory Council at our meeting last spring. Their answers, which you’ll find here, may surprise you. They have provided good counsel for me, and I certainly welcome your thoughts on this matter as well.
One area of which we are deservedly proud is our Lawyering Program, which is also reconsidering the kinds of advanced legal skills courses that our graduates will need to remain competitive in this economy. Here, you will read about how this hallmark program has become a model for other schools, and how we are taking the teaching of lawyering to a new level, where the development of practical skills combined with a strong theoretical basis will produce new lawyers that will always be tops on a hiring partner’s wish list.
Another thing I tell students and alumni in this time of transition is that a law degree can open opportunities to careers in many diverse fields within and beyond the law. Jobs in the public sector may be a safe harbor to weather the economic storm, and some areas of business that are rebounding more quickly than the large legal firms. In this issue, we profile four alumni who have parlayed their legal training into successful careers in business and the non-profit sector.
In closing, I would again ask your help on the issues I raise in this letter. Any assistance you can provide to job-seeking students or alumni would be most welcomed by our Career Services office, under the direction of John DeRosa, or our Public Service Program, under the direction of Karen Comstock. And as always, I invite you to visit us in Ithaca or to email me directly with your observations about the magazine or any other aspect of the Law School. From all of us at Myron Taylor Hall, please accept my thanks for the good work that you do and my very best wishes in the months ahead.
Stewart J. Schwab
The Allan R. Tessler Dean and Professor of Law
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