Last week, we got an email from an admitted student asking us to withdraw his application because he was headed instead to another school. He mentioned that one element of his decision was that, having been admitted to the summer start1, he feared that it would be harder for him to get a job. His concern stemmed from something on our admitted student site, written by former summer-starters, about what they saw as the advantages of the summer start. (If you’re an admitted student, you can log in to read the communication in toto.) In the course of their lengthy exegesis, the summer-starters debunked some anti-summer myths they had heard, including this: “Because lots of other schools have conditional-admit programs2 that begin in the summer, employers will think you’re in some kind of remedial program in you’re in Michigan’s summer start.” In response, they espoused their anecdotal theory that it might actually be easier to get jobs as a summer-starter, but in so doing acknowledged that, as students, they weren’t in a position to “deal with ‘facts’ and ‘data’”—matters better tackled by Admissions and Career Planning administrators.
The withdrawing student read the student-authors’ eschewing of facts and data to mean that the Law School itself was affirmatively unwilling or unable to support the students’ claims with facts and data. This reading—quite understandably—gave him serious concern. But his reading was wrong. Now, if someone were to write the breezy little “facts and data” comment today and hand it to me for review, my antenna would go up, because I have been thoroughly sensitized to the many issues about outcomes and data. My sensitivities were quite different, though, when the letter was written a few years ago, before the massive paradigm shift occasioned by the economic contraction. Further, until our withdrawing student, no one had advanced any concerns about either the phrasing on the website or the overarching question. Further still, while the difference between starting in the summer and starting in the fall can be a weighty consideration for individual enrolling students, those of us within the institution don’t experience the summer- and fall-starters as fundamentally different, and therefore don’t break down data along those lines. In other words, while I feel more than a little abashed that our annual scouring of the website didn’t unearth this as something worthy of updating, all I can say is—better late than never?! Not to mention, thankyouverymuch to the withdrawing student for raising my consciousness.
I’m happy to illustrate now, with the aid of actual facts and data, the bearing out of the anecdotal intuitions of the authoring students. Below are the most recent three years’ worth of data on graduating students, broken down by year and term, as well as aggregated for all graduating students, all graduating summer-starters (who graduate in December), and all graduating fall-starters (who graduate in May):
Arguably, the summer-starters are consistently a bit more interested in doing public interest work than are the fall-starters, but that’s the sole category where I can discern a potentially meaningful difference.
Feeling that 2011 data might seem a little old (the data on 2012 grads is still being crunched, and won’t be ready for another month or so), I also pestered Career Planning for a little data on the 2L summer jobs of this year’s 3Ls (i.e., the jobs that the December 2012/May 2013 grads had in the summer of 2012), on the theory that one’s 2L summer job is a decent predictor of one’s immediate post-grad job. Now, bear with me as I engage in a little reflexive distancing of myself from the argument I’m about to make: I am most certainly not of the mindset that private law firms are the universal Great White Whales of legal jobs. Of the 2L jobs I saw listed for the summer of 2012, I personally was pretty intrigued by Harley-Davidson and the Farm Animal Reform Movement (and I noticed several people on the list who had been signed up to go to formerly über-fancy and now-imploded Dewey & Leboeuf, but who had to turn on a dime during finals to line up an alternative). As a general category, the happiest lawyers I know work for the ACLU and various U.S. Attorney’s offices. All of which is to say, please do not read what I’m about to write as an argument that the only worthy post-law-school job is one at a private firm.
Blah blah blah. Forgive my digression. The point I was leading up to is this: Noting the percentage of people going to private law firms is a reasonable way to gauge the kinds of opportunities graduates from particular schools have available. To be sure, you may very well choose to do something different with your freedom of choice—more than one student has had me urge him or her to resist mindless prestige-seeking behavior (hi, BC!)—but having some freedom in the first place is the key. To that end, it is worth noting that overall, two-thirds of last year’s 2Ls went to private firms—and while a very respectable 63% of the fall-starters did so, a whopping 78% of the summer-starters did. (Now, that would seem to contradict the public-interest pattern of the summer-starters from the immediate prior three years of graduates, but maybe these summer-starters will bear out my do-something-different-with-your-freedom scenario and choose to pursue other opportunities after graduation.)
In short: A case cannot be made that outcomes for summer-starters are materially different, let alone materially worse, than outcomes for fall-starters. There are many reasons an individual might prefer either a fall or a summer start, but concern about finding a law job ought not to be on the list.
And now, a plea: if you have a question or concern—whether prompted by something on our website, or by something else entirely—by all means, raise it with us! The student who so helpfully asked the question that prompted this post suggested that he knew other admitted students who shared his concern, but that they were reluctant to ask lest they appear rude. One of the things you are trained to do as a lawyer is to think critically and ask a lot of questions; it is, perhaps, the lawyerly trait most likely to drive non-lawyers crazy, and that may be why 0Ls, not yet lawyers, would worry that it is rude behavior. Certainly, you can ask questions in a rude way, but the mere fact of asking is not, to my mind, even remotely rude—and in general, a group of lawyers is probably the last group of people to get their backs up. So, please: ask!
1Approximately one-quarter of every entering class at Michigan are summer-starters, while three-quarters are fall-starters. Applicants indicate at the time they fill out their application whether they’re willing to enter in the summer and if not, we don’t consider them for a summer spot. A student who wants to change his or her enrollment term after admission has to make a request to do so, and proffer a reason.
2A few law schools offer conditional-admission programs, where a formal offer is contingent upon a student’s successfully completing a term, often in the summer, prior to full-fledged enrollment. We do not offer that kind of program.