In Praise of the Telephone
Law school reform discussions tend to focus on two mantras: first, “it’s the debt, [stupid]” – high debt loads preclude certain jobs and create long-term problems for many who don’t land the most lucrative positions. Second, “if you build it, the firms will come” – more practice-ready JDs will mean more jobs. Rather than rehash this debate, I’d like to explore an oft-overlooked and underused tool we all have to help our students find employment:
There is a generational divide over telephone etiquette. To paint with an overbroad brush, many professors over fifty prefer not to “cold call” – that is, reach out to individuals whom they don’t already know. More younger faculty feel comfortable picking up the phone and calling a potential employer (summer, internship, externship, or post-graduate) to talk up their student, even if they have no preexisting relationship with the individual on the other end of the line.
Cold calling is the right thing to do.
Simply put, I’ve never heard of someone being turned down for a job because a professor called to support them. Of course, a call to someone you know is better than one to someone you don’t, but a cold call is better than no call at all. And professors do need to keep some of their powder dry – no one wants a reputation for being overly exuberant about any person who has ever darkened your office door – but my feeling is that, regardless of age, we don’t call enough.
Sterling recommendations letters aren’t the end of our work. Telephone calls, even those that go unreturned, convey a personal interest from the professor and may help the student get out of the massive “applications” pile into the “seriously consider” group. And a call is different from an email; phoning sends a stronger signal and is viewed more seriously by potential employers. Spending a few more minutes making cold calls won’t solve the larger problems facing legal education, but might just help individual students get jobs.
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