Law Students, Grads Head In-House
Pilot programs offer new lawyers corporate legal skills and, for the lucky, jobs.
Jessica Blumert always knew she wanted to work in-house at a corporate legal department. She just didn't expect to get there right out of law school.
The 2013 graduate of Yeshiva University Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law is a month into her new gig as an associate in the legal department of Diamonds International — the largest jewelry store in the Caribbean. She landed at the company through Cardozo's new Resident Associate Mentor Program, where law firms and corporate legal departments hire Cardozo alums for one year at a salary of $38,000.
Diamonds International joins several corporations — Credit Suisse Group A.G., Morgan Stanley, Bank of New York Mellon Corp. and Consolidated Edison Inc. — that have pledged to or have already hired law students and recent graduates for temporary in-house counsel stints.
They're doing so under pilot programs like Cardozo's — one of a handful of efforts recently launched by law schools and bar associations that provide practical experience and perhaps lead to permanent jobs. Many of these programs center on or include corporate legal departments, challenging a prevalent notion that new lawyers don't belong in-house. Legal departments traditionally have shied away from hiring green lawyers and training law students, preferring instead to hire laterally from law firms.
But that's changing as companies look to cut spending on outside firms and as the pool of potential lateral associate hires shrinks with new-hire reductions, said several in-house attorneys. Working directly with law students and recent graduates will help them create a more diverse legal department, some attorneys say.
"General counsel are now thinking, 'Maybe there is a lower tier of work that we can staff internally at a lower cost and train them ourselves,' " said Mark Morril, former general counsel of Simon & Schuster and chair of the New York City Bar Association's Task Force on New Lawyers in a Changing Profession. "They didn't hire new graduates before because they didn't have the resources to train them, but they're rethinking that."
The New York City Bar Association this month announced the creation of its Bridge to Practice Program, in which four large companies have agreed to employ law students or recent graduates on a temporary basis. Cardozo's associate mentor program has placed two recent graduates in-house and nine others at small and medium-size firms.
"This is literally my dream job," said Blumert, who hopes to remain at Diamonds International once her yearlong commitment ends. "I always wanted to do fashion law or [intellectual property], but I had sort of given up on getting an in-house job. I talked to a lot of in-house lawyers and they said, 'There isn't much right now and most people come through a law firm, so go to a law firm and try to become the best in your area.' "
Cisco Systems Inc. will launch a program this summer with the University of Colorado Law School in which two students will work in its legal department full time for seven months.
"From June until January, they are all Cisco, all the time," said Colorado law dean Philip Weiser, who conceived of the program with Cisco general counsel Mark Chandler. "It's an immersive experience, and Cisco will treat them like a full-time lawyer."