In the meantime, compromise is a necessary evil. Brian Aune, 32, started at Harvard Law after managing a Barnes & Noble outlet for nine years. Now a second-year student, he's currently student-government president. This summer, he's slated for an internship in Washington, at Sheppard Mullin, which has laid off approximately 25 attorneys since the beginning of the year. They've also scaled back their 11-week summer associate program by one week to cut costs, he says. "I feel like I have a little bit less leeway and flexibility because of this."
Oh, boo hoo, you might say, go on a cruise for a week. But in many cases, internship recruitment used to look like outtakes from Less Than Zero, with wining and dining par for the course. Scaling back by a week is a subtle reminder that those bacchanalian days are over.
Even Harvard is being forced to adjust. The school now aims to give its students an edge by scheduling on-campus recruiting in late summer, instead of late September, which, explains Aune, had been customary, since many firms hold slots for Harvard graduates anyway. This year, that notion failed them, since students at comparable schools completed on-campus interviews in late summer. Harvard students were then left to negotiate for fewer positions — after the economic tsunami had hit, no less. They're not taking a chance on the same thing happening next year.
"It's a combination of both the trend in that field and also the economy — it impacted us pretty hard last year, so we're trying to be on par with a lot of our peer schools that are doing early interviews," says Aune. Harvard deigning to compete with other schools? Is this a sign of the apocalypse? For the time being, yes. "My sense of it, from talking with people, and from trying to talk with career services, is that people are more concerned than in years past," he allows.
If anything, though, students are being forced to rethink their career plans rather than accept defeat altogether. Many students who might ordinarily toil at a high-paying firm, he says, are considering using Harvard's clout to land public-interest jobs instead. Bonus: many of these jobs help students pay off their loans. Yet a fallback for some is a goal for others like White, who now land at the bottom of the résumé pile, thanks to Ivy students snatching up coveted public-interest positions.
"The [Harvard] name does help," says Aune. "If you have one job that has fallen through, it's not necessarily impossible to go seek out another one; career services will aggressively help you. A lot of 1Ls [first-year law students] who might have sought firm work might do public interest — in my experience, firms are hiring many fewer 1Ls for the summer than 2Ls. For them, it wasn't even worth trying to making it work."
Indeed, newer students seem content to bide their time and seize their moment when the economy improves. Courtney Houston-Carter, 23, a first-year at Suffolk Law School, is delighted to take refuge in the library for the next two years. "Some of my professors teach 3Ls also, and they've come to class and are saying, 'You guys are lucky to be 1Ls, not graduating this year.' I can definitely can say that among my peers, among the first years, there's a gratifying knowledge that we're in school for another two years."