Many students have asked for advice about making course selections. The most proactive route for a student interested in labor and employment law is to immediately concentrate in the subject area, but these recommendations are generally applicable to any student.
The general principle is: life is short. A student who knows they want to be a labor and employment lawyer should take as many L&E classes as they can, as soon as possible. While most of these proactive, inquiring students ultimately concentrate in labor and employment law (L&EL), these suggestions have broader utility. For those who are sampling different areas of interest, know that a fine grade in a single elective is better than a terrible grade in an elective. This advice is especially pertinent to rising 2L’s.
If you are able to take four courses in L&E law in the fall semester, do so. Take additional courses in the spring semester and take required courses after building an impressive block of excellence in labor and employment law classes. Human nature being what it is, a student is likely to do very well in the subjects they are most interested in. Even if you graduate and never directly practice L&EL, you have nevertheless gained a conceptual and practical architecture portable to virtually any other substantive area of law.
There are many examples of students who excelled in labor and employment classes who went on to practice in different areas entirely. The Chief Counsel to the Governor of a major state graduated at the top of the class as an evening student, practiced entertainment law briefly, went to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, moved up the ranks to become the Executive Assistant to the U.S. Attorney (who is now Governor); the Chief of Staff to the U.S. Secretary of Defense also is another example.
Virtually without exception, students taking two or more related courses in the same semester find that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts—i.e., one does better taking synergistic courses in the same semester. This will create opportunities to show a depth of knowledge in the subject area. Some L&E courses may be paper based, with opportunity for developing a publishable paper competitively situated for an external prize competition. (e.g., the NYSB Association L&E Law Section annual writing competition.) Prospective employers will be impressed. Most scholarships and employment opportunities are concentrated on 2L students.
Imagine being the employer considering 2L students for summer associate positions. Candidate F takes Labor Law in the fall semester, 2013, and receives a B+ (or, OK, A-; not bad!) Candidate F remains an F, however, if F does not take any other L&E course. Meanwhile, Candidate A takes Labor Law with NLRB Regional Director and prominent alumna Karen Fernbach, Pension and Benefits Law with John Campbell of the United States Department of Labor Office of the Solicitor, Employment Law with me and Employment Discrimination Law co-taught by David Marshall, partner with the management side firm Edwards Wildman, and yours truly.
Four courses trump one or two courses. Simple.
Candidate A becomes the A+ summer associate, and receives a partial tuition scholarship in addition. Candidate F was never really in the game. During the fall interview, in response to the employer’s query regarding labor and employment law courses, Candidate F says Labor Law was the only course that fit F’s fall schedule.
Candidate A, however, submits the fall and spring list of eight labor and employment courses Candidate A is taking the full academic year. Case closed. All things being equal otherwise, if one position is available between Candidates A and F, F gets the rejection letter and Candidate A gets the summer position.
With a summer position secure and likely to lead to an offer to join the firm as an associate after graduation, Candidate A can take the required courses in the third year with relatively greater confidence that a lower grade in a required course would not be catastrophic. Candidate A’s GPA went up significantly in the fall semester, after acing every L&E course. Meanwhile, Candidate F and friends have squandered their critically important fall 2L semester. Rather than developing some substantive depth, Candidate F et al maintain that they have “gotten several required courses out of the way, although cumulative GPAs did suffer.” Candidate F and friends have little substantive depth and lower cumulative GPAs. Presented in this fashion, the choice is simple.