Passing the Torch

A few weeks ago, my journal’s Senior Editorial Board assigned the Class of 2015 to their positions on the Editorial Board for next year’s volume. Since then, we’ve been working closely with our replacements to ensure that the transition is as smooth as possible and that JETLaw continues to improve and provide its members with a valuable journal experience and a quality publication. The defining experience of my tenure as EIC has been the extended, repeated revelation that I am surrounded by extraordinary people, and a weekend of interviews and a few weeks of close work with the incoming Senior Board only adds to that. I am proud to leave the journal in their hands. 

After a weekend meeting with all thirty one rising 3L journal members, we found more talent than we could use on the Senior Board. I experienced–perhaps for the first time–a degree of real empathy for the people on the other side of the tough hiring market over the past several years. It is difficult to deny an eager applicant a job that she wants desperately. The factors that most often forced us to disappoint people who were actively volunteering to do a lot of extra work during their 3L year were numbers and fit. Numbers are obvious: no matter how many exceptional candidates we found, we could only pick one for each spot. Fit is harder. Sometimes we found people who were passionate about what they thought a job would entail, but they were wrong about what the job actually involved. This applied to jobs people wanted and to those they hoped to avoid. People spoke enthusiastically about working closely with the rising 2Ls and asked for jobs that actually involved little direct work with the new journal members while expressing disinterest in positions that have the potential for real engagement. In the end, we tried to put individuals into positions that matched their interests and their talents. When their talents and interests conflicted with their explicit requests, I tried to take the long view. I was more comfortable disappointing people by denying them the jobs they asked for and assigning them jobs that I thought they would do well and enjoy.

I hope this is also the approach that my interviewers have taken in the past. I am sure there are some jobs that I didn’t get because of numbers. At Vanderbilt (and I suspect at most law schools) there are always too many qualified candidates for any job. As a Vanderbilt student focused on staying with my family in Nashville, I was typically competing against my fellow Nashvillians as well as a school full of talented people falling in love with Nashville. I like to believe–and given the reputation of the Nashville bar, I don’t think this is a misplaced belief–that some of the interviewers who didn’t offer me a job were looking out for me as well as for their firms. I’m sure that some of the jobs I didn’t get (but desperately wanted) were jobs that wouldn’t have been good fits at the time. I like to believe that people making hiring decisions are also taking a long view in which looking out for the interests of their firms involve considering not only whether applicants can do the jobs but also whether the jobs will be good ones for those young lawyers.

After half of a semester in Professor Cheek‘s class, The Profession of Law as a Business, I think that the best firms probably are. The profession is in flux, but the business and professional interests both favor putting new lawyers into positions where they will thrive. I certainly haven’t received every position that I applied for during my time at Vanderbilt, but the ones I got have been great fits. They have allowed me to learn and prepare for the next opportunity. I am profoundly grateful for the chance to begin my career with a year as a judicial clerk in Nashville–a great opportunity to serve the profession while preparing for its future and mine–and I look forward to leaving JETLaw in the eager, capable hands of the Class of 2015.

–Jeff

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