Idiosyncrasies of the Yale 2L Job Search

December 14, 2007

J.L., 2L

With the deadline looming for deciding where to spend the summer, I thought I’d comment on the idiosyncrasies of the Yale 2L job search. The finely choreographed employer-student dance undoubtedly goes through most of the same motions as at other schools. But, some aspects I suspect are uniquely “Yale.”

First is the ironic disparagement the law school heaps on the “Biglaw” careers that ultimately enable most of us to justify Yale’s tuition. Despite Yale’s pseudo-official mantra of “prestigious federal clerkship followed by career in academia,” firms seem willing to call our bluff and descend on New Haven in numbers almost equaling the entire 2L population.

The “screening” interviews reveal another Yale quirk: it is very hard for employers to know what they are getting by looking at our transcripts. Yes, we have no grades for one semester, and hieroglyphic ones thereafter. No, journal membership is not indicative of class rank (something else we don’t have here). Cast adrift, employers resort to the often substantial business, political, and non-profit backgrounds students bring to the law school. The prodigious energy students invested in their former lives can leave interviewers wondering aloud how six years de-worming orphans in Somalia manages to interest (or qualify) someone in their corporate M&A practice. For those of us who discover passions at Yale incongruous with our pasts, explaining this can be a Sisyphean task.

During fly-back week, one’s “Yaleness” becomes a fulcrum precariously balancing interviewers who seesaw back and forth between good-natured ribbing and unabashed contempt. “I can’t believe we interview Yalies,” says the latter group. “They don’t know anything about practicing law.” “I can’t believe the responsibility the firm gave me my first year,” says the former (usually comprised of Yale alums). “I didn’t know anything about the practice of law.” As someone formerly on the hiring side of these exchanges, I can attest that no recent law grad knows much about the practice of law (you wouldn’t let a newly minted med school grad perform your open-heart surgery either, though). But we pick it up as fast as the rest of them.

Finally, in the aftermath of fly-back week, Yale remains a catalyst for putative employers’ courtship ritual. As with interviews, the follow-up calls can result in humorously Janus sales pitches: “Come here because we don’t have many Yalies, so you’ll stand out.” Or, “Come here because we have lots of Yalies, so you’ll fit in.” This can also become sinister brinksmanship: “Why would you go to that firm after working so hard to get into Yale?” Or (my personal favorite), “Going there’s like playing for the Toledo Mudhens when you could go to the Yankees.”

I can’t comment meaningfully on whether it’s easier to land a great job here than anywhere else. The challenges may just be different. Yale’s excellent Career Development Office (which does not chant the anti-firm mantra) certainly makes the job search the best-prepared, most comfortable (apart from a 90-degree autumn) I’ve experienced. But, if it is not “easier” here, it is almost certainly more entertaining.