Friday, September 20, 2013

Externships for Students or Employment for Graduates?

An empirical questions keeps occurring to me and it deals with the relationship between externships and employment. By externships, I mean the practice of law schools to grant credit to students who work for government agencies and various corporations without compensation. If schools offering these opportunities are true to their promises, these students are are not just fetching coffee and typing. Instead, they are often doing what a law school graduate might be doing if someone were not already doing it for nothing. Of course, externs take the jobs of others even  if they are only typing and fetching coffee but law schools aren't inclined to worry the "little" people. While encouraging externs, law schools wring their hands about the employment opportunities of graduates.  Part of the wringing can be traced to the negative impact that low employment rates  have on national rankings but there is also generalized worry about the future of the institutions, positions, and income.

Of course correlation does not mean causation. There is clearly a correlation between externships (free labor) and the unwillingness of employers to hire graduates (paid labor). It would be silly, though, to think more externships have caused the current conditions in the market for graduates.

But wait.  Is there really no impact at all? Is it really possible that hundreds of students willing to work for nothing actually have no impact on those who would like to be paid? I doubt that. That leads to question about just how much of an impact there is. For example, do 20 externs lead to one less full time paying job?  Externs and graduates are in many respects perfect substitutes, One is priced at zero. The other is not. If you were a profit maximizer, which would you choose?

So, are law schools offering an opportunity to current students that is paid, in part, by recent graduates. I think so but I cannot say  how much.


Stephanie said...

Don't forget the fact that externship credits must be paid for like regular tuition. So students are actually paying to work.

Fred said...

Are law schools offering an opportunity to current students that is paid, in part, by recent graduates?

Perhaps, but largely, I disagree.

Law student externs (whether a 1L or a 3L) and law school graduates are not mutually equivalent.

Whilst the extern may be purportedly doing the same work as a graduate there are some major differences and an constant influx of externs cannot simply replace a graduate.

A graduate for instance, is supposed to develop a relationship with his or her firm. A graduate works full time and devotes all of his or her work efforts to their firm. A graduate is assumed to remain at the firm for at least a year if not a number of years.

An extern on the other hand will work if not just one semester, at most two semester with an individual firm. Externs are only eligible to receive a certain amount of credits and unless seeking graduate employment with a specific firm, will usually attempt to diversify externship experience If it is the Spring or Fall, an extern will only be able to devote as much effort as he or she can spare from school work. An extern might develop important relationships with his or her firm, but it will not necessarily be as meaningful as the graduate who works the entire year.

So even if ultimately the work done by externs and graduates is commensurate, they themselves, are not.

Jeffrey Harrison said...

I think it goes with out saying that externs take the paying jobs of some number of others. The are not perfect substitutes but do, as you say, the same work. But even if law grads are not the ones excluded, the ones excluded are likely to ones that need jobs. No matter how you cut it, law schools collect tuition and send free labor into the market.

Fred said...

Maybe I'm too hopeful. Of some reassurance however is the fact that for-profit law firms are precluded from using externs. Externships are limited to: not-for-profit organizations, government agencies, courts or tribunals, or corporation. So while these workplaces might be exploiting the extern system, law firms for can't for now...