ABA Journal


Law Firms

At this law firm, even the runner and receptionist must have a college degree

Feb 20, 2013, 12:14 pm CST


It means they must have had the debt capacity to get through university, at least. Unfortunately, and all too often, asinine over-qualification requirements like this are simply a tool to enforce discriminatory hiring practices. I would be suspicious of any firm that imposes a degree requirement for its couriers.

By B. McLeod on 2013 02 20, 1:17 pm CST

The *official* college grad unemployment rate might only be 3.7%, but according to a recent Pew study, only 42% of college grads held college-level jobs, on average, from 2003 through 2012. Nearly the same percentage held high school level jobs (like being a courier), were unemployed, or out of the workforce. And let's not forget that only 1 in 2 student loans are in active repayment, per the NY Fed Reserve. The collapse of the bubble is nigh...

By Unemployednortheastern on 2013 02 20, 1:39 pm CST

This does not "illustrate the importance of a good education." It illustrates artificial credential inflation.

By BL1Y on 2013 02 20, 3:48 pm CST

To point out how well this works, one of their college grad web designers should update their web site. It has © 2009 at the bottom. Apparently, being a college grad means living in the past, no? Too funny.

By KG on 2013 02 20, 4:35 pm CST

Ah yes. If I were a law firm, I too, would like my runners making $7 an hour to have massive student debt loan to repay. It would make them more committed to staying and putting up with more. Nothing like seeing people live on starving wages, knowing they went into massive debt to get such a job. It keeps life humorous.

By The Humor in Life on 2013 02 20, 7:24 pm CST

Shame on Busch, Slipakoff & Schuh and so many others like them. If they had any understanding of fellow humans, they would know how many people out there do not have any college education but can be/are excellent workers who are committed to their jobs, their future and being outstanding workers. These non-college educated people also often bring something that so many college educated people do not have . . . plain, everyday common sense. So often, college education brings about a disgusting habit - one of entiitlement and oh, being so much better than others. Of course, I am not denying the great importance of education and the more one can get - great, but it is simply not the end all; these firms need to open their closed eyes and mind.

By Karen Barth on 2013 02 20, 10:42 pm CST

This is ridiculous. I had an assistant who worked for me for about 10 years. We hired her after she had completed a two semester legal secretary program at a community college and worked for about a year in a four attorney law office. She came into our office much better prepared for the job than anyone with a college degree in anything could possibly be. In addition she was doing the job for which she had been trained and that she wanted to do.

By StephenB on 2013 02 20, 11:29 pm CST

Of course, every successful business person who doesn't have a degree won't hire these fools, and every successful business person who is the first generation of their family to attend university will think of this firm as the stuck-up bastards that wouldn't hire their parents.

By B. McLeod on 2013 02 21, 1:29 am CST

No matter what ad I put out there, even at minimum wage, I get at least 60 responses with many having college degrees, advanced experience, excellent references and willing to work for whatever.
It's the sign of the economy, not being pompous and overly selective. So this firm can say "they require" a college degree, but any job advertised, even at min. wage will get tons of responses, and you can easily hire a college grad. Saying you require it is a lie. Saying you hired the best person, with the best GPA, with the best college degree that applied for the job, showed up for an interview, did well on the interview, is the truth. Nowadays, it is likely to be a college grad, with a good GPA and with a good work ethic--and at minimum wage.

By joanne denison, chicago on 2013 02 22, 8:38 am CST

I can't wait until the economy picks up in the second Hillary Clinton term, sometime around 2020, and some equivalent of Downton Abbey's "Mr. Carson", major poobah of the messengers and mailroom staff, is heard sniffing that "you cannot find good employees anymore".

By Credential P. Inflation on 2013 02 22, 12:20 pm CST

Looking at the pictures accompanying the NYT article, it seems this policy may just be a cover for the actual policy of only hiring pretty young white people.

By Disgruntled in Detroit on 2013 02 22, 12:34 pm CST

Disgruntled in Detroit -its hard being favored for your appearance through no fault of your own. ; ) More seriously, this article also illustrates a phenomenon reported in the Wall St Journal, no less, of hiring based on social comfort or fit (whether the hiring person like to have a beer, or something else, with the person) weighs more heavily than actual qualifications. Guess who need not bother to apply?

By Just Sayin' on 2013 02 22, 1:10 pm CST



By MICHAEL FELDMAN on 2013 02 22, 1:10 pm CST

I'm (still) lauging over this one: "Adam Slipakoff, managing partner @ the Law Firm. “College graduates are just more career-oriented and going to college means they are making a real commitment to their futures. They’re not just looking for a paycheck".
* REALLY???? (ROFLMAO). Not everyone was born with a "Golden Spoon" in their mouth that could afford to send their Children to College. Most (if not all) Colleges have students taking courses ~not~ even related to their Degree Field because College is a "Money Making Machine". Taking "electives" that have no relevance to an I.T. position just so you can pay $1,200 for the class and expensive books for....what??? To pay money into the college of course.

It's common sense that every (graduate) is about $6o,ooo in debt in Student Loans and with the "Degree" someone is going to work for "his" (precious) Law Firm for....$8-hr. to be Errand Boy or "Rachel the Receptionist" or "Administrative Annie" ? I find "just looking for a paycheck" a slap in the face when I've seen lawyers (with his Cranial-Rectumitis) attitude "take money" from Clients having no interest in their cases..."Just for a Paycheck". Atty's are great actors and finding a great Atty. is like finding a "great Dentist" that you can trust. (Good Luck!)

The Atty. says, "They're making a real commitment to their futures. They’re not just looking for a paycheck" (????). If Atty's were paid "comission" ...maybe they'd really work harder and not just "bill $250-hr." ("Just for a Paycheck"). After all....we want Atty's to "work harder" for their money right? Have them "earn it" by "commission only" and that will put alot of Atty's out of business and then THIS Atty. will realize...."It's not just looking for a paycheck". Interesting how the shoe is on the other foot.....isn't it ?

By BH67 on 2013 02 22, 1:44 pm CST

Nice capitals #13. As for the recession being "Obama's new normal" one seems to forget the problems and policies that got us into the mess in the first place. But alas, that is a different post for a different day.

This firm is a bunch of jerks. There is no pride in hiring the overqualified at slave wages. What horribly grotesque little people they are.

That being said, the economy, such as it is, results in too few jobs for too many applicants, many over qualified. This is not the "new normal" but a temporary blip that will pass, as have all others including the Great Depression.

By DCinsider on 2013 02 22, 1:47 pm CST

Seriously funny to read the complaints from the people about this firm. These cry-babies should start all their complaints with, " I didn't go to college," or how about, "You suck because I don't have a degree." If you don't like it, you don't have to work there. Oh wait, you don't qualify anyway.

By Lowleekey Bogawoga on 2013 02 22, 2:11 pm CST

Well I hope they expect a high turnaround rate. A college grad is not going to be a file runner forever.

By JB Law on 2013 02 22, 2:17 pm CST

Comment removed by moderator.

By BH67 on 2013 02 22, 2:18 pm CST

Mr. McLeod:

I would not. At my former firm, the economy allowed us to get college graduates for our "runner" positions. It was amazing how much better they were at handling situation that arose when the were, for instance, serving a subpoena or a situation arose at the clerk's office.

By Brian on 2013 02 22, 2:30 pm CST

Haven't there been recent rulings indicating that requiring job candidates to have a degree that is not really essential for the job constitutes unlawful discrimination in hiring?

By Realist on 2013 02 22, 2:53 pm CST

I didn't know whether the laugh or get angry at this article. Did it never occur to these people that perhaps the slave wages they propose for their runners and administrative assistants are the wages folks need for furthering their educations? Not everyone will qualify for student loans, grants or scholarships to fund their educations. Some people would prefer an education in one of the trades or a technical education rather than a college education. Also, one of the primary impediments to college grads getting their first job out of college is lack of work experience. To pay for your education as you go and gain work experience in the process, seems like a good common sense approach to planning for your future to me.

I hope that this article represents a only a minority of small minded elitist attorneys at this firm. Otherwise, I wouldn't expect them to remain in business for very long. It is my experience that successful attorneys and their firms tend to think outside the box. These folks sound like they are captive to a very narrow minded way of thinking.

By AND THE BEAT GOES ON on 2013 02 22, 3:05 pm CST

A receptionist with a B.A.? What do you know?! There IS a career path for those gender studies majors.

By Publius on 2013 02 22, 3:11 pm CST

What happens if this college degree requirement has a disparate impact on a protected group under Title VII? . . . . . What happens under the ADA if a disabled person who is unable to obtain a college degree because of his or her disability applies for a job here and is turned down without being offered the opportunity to demonstrate that s/he can perform the essential job functions with or without an accommodation? . . . . . . Will this college degree requirement hold up?

By Brian on 2013 02 22, 3:31 pm CST

in a way, it's a throw-back to the days (1960's) of over-qualified women in low-paying jobs, because they either couldn't break into the career path, they chose not to, or the various reasons why wives and especially mothers of young children, if they worked, worked at jobs that were not as demanding, in time commitment, as professional tracks.

That is why a graduate of Vassar taught third grade--and taught it well. She might also be a bank teller, or professional's assistant, a nurse, or in other jobs that support professionals. And she was damned good at it, resulting in higher quality of education, for one. Until very recently, that same woman would be a partner in a firm, a doctor, a bank officer. The gain for women to have those opportunities was at the expense of the quality of workers at the lower levels, especially pronounced in education.

Let there be no mistake that I do not see this effect as bad and i do not advocate forcing women back to days of limited choices; I am simply observing an effect.

And it's not just women. Used to be, the male clerk at a store, or postman, or repairman, as well as those in trades, was smart enough to have succeeded in college and moved on to higher positions, but (except the effect of the GI Bill after WWII) college was not accessible. The rest of us got way better service than we get now. Aren't we all frustrated by the rampant incompetence at the service level?

So now we are back--those who, I won't call them over-qualified, but would note they are qualified for "higher" positions, are pushed by the failed economy to the lower levels. That society may benefit from this is at their expense.

And I think this firm's marketing strategy by announcing their policy fails, too.

By Hadley V. Baxendale on 2013 02 22, 3:45 pm CST

Full marks for having the guts to admit it!

By Andrew on 2013 02 22, 3:48 pm CST

I once met a Bavarian school teacher (he insisted he was Bavarian, not German), and I asked about education in Bavaria. He told me that education there has two paths -- one for university-bound and one for training in skilled occupations. Children are tested in their early years and placed in one track or the other. This doesn't mean that being placed in one track or the other seals a child's fate. There are places along the way to high school graduation at which a child can ask to move to the other track. Generally, though, the students with the capacity for more intellectual occupations go to university, while those whose talents lie in other areas attend vocational training. However, in Bavaria, an auto mechanic or a plumber is just as respected and valued as a doctor or lawyer, and he/she is assured of a good living and career.

What U.S. citizens and residents need to realize is that not everyone should go to college. Some people just can't hack it. Instead of accepting this, we've dumbed-down colleges and universities so that anyone can attend and get a Bachelor's degree. Our school systems have pretty much eliminated vocational training. Sure, there may still be some auto mechanics or wood shop classes, but, by and large, vocational training has become the realm of proprietary schools, most of which are quite expensive, and some of which are predatory. For example, my nephew will graduate from high school this year, and he's signed up for an auto mechanic school at the cost of $42,000 for ten months.

If vocational training has an annual cost equal to an Ivy League university, why don't we attach equal value to the people who pursue vocations? I can't fix my car, just as my mechanic can't read and interpret court decisions. I've never wired a house, and I doubt that my electrician has ever prepared a brief.

We need to provide vocational training, pay livable wages to all workers, and give some respect to people in vocations. Then, maybe everyone wouldn't feel forced to go to college, and employers could hire the right people for their job openings.

By The authentic LAB on 2013 02 22, 3:54 pm CST

Right on, #26. When I started high school, there was still a "vo-tech" automobile shop on site. And none of us "academic" students looked down on it either, because those kids were already working 1/2 a day. We looked at it as commonsense acknowledgement of what was better for them. Problem was local government did not want to pay to keep it open, and it's not there anymore. Money spent on education is not always money spent on flat screens or elective classes deemed "frivolous" or "elitist" by the yahoos who vote for low taxes over every other issue. And a C- sociology major is probably going to wind up as a secretary anyway.

By NCLawyer on 2013 02 22, 4:13 pm CST

Also, if I could, I'd hire English majors for every non-lawyer position. It's astonishing to me how poor the communication and writing skills are of most applicants, even the college graduates. Communication is key to our business, yet I'm still seeing "there" they're" "their" errors in resume cover letters. If you can't get it right there, you're not going to get it right when you're working for me, and I don't want to spend time proofreading basic transmittal letters.

By NCLawyer on 2013 02 22, 4:19 pm CST

Re: "However, in Bavaria, an auto mechanic or a plumber is just as respected and valued as a doctor or lawyer, and he/she is assured of a good living and career."

That's because they have better cars.

or maybe that's why they have better cars.

Anyway, I agree that for many, the college degree is a waste of time and resources for many, and it's wrong that they can't go straight to the job they are going to end up with (remember the old 2 year junior college "degree"?). On the other hand I believe in the value of non-vocational education--Liberal Arts--and do not like that colleges are now upper-level trade schools. But I stop at the socialist notion of paying everyone the same wage. The market won't do that, and the Powers shouldn't.

By Hadley V. Baxendale on 2013 02 22, 4:27 pm CST

You guys are just misunderstanding the hiring requirement here. They want to make sure that their court runner can outrun everyone else's court runner so they only accept those that ran track at a Division 1 school.

By Rob on 2013 02 22, 4:34 pm CST

I find it amusing that people would actually criticize the law firm for only hiring college grads, or finding some sinister motive like discrimination as the basis for doing so. Maybe the people complaining about the poor job prospects in their major should have taken that into consideration before they took out student loans to pay for a degree that they can't use. Given the glut of college grads out there with useless majors, why shouldn't a law firm take advantage of a talent pool that has at least proven themselves capable of learning how to do something. And why should the firm pay more than that market rate for the job? If people are taking those jobs, despite being seemingly over qualified, that is their choice. Its also a sign that the push for college education rather than technical or work task based education has been misplaced.

By exradardan on 2013 02 22, 5:23 pm CST

@19 – I absolutely agree. McLeod's full of it here. A runner that can read and write, and can think on their feet - at least hard enough to pull out a cell phone, ask for directions and execute on them – is a valuable asset indeed. In addition, nature abhors a vacuum; the article notes that the young man is already branching out into getting their billing done and other tasks.

The biggest difference is whether or not the employee can read and comprehend the piece of paper that they're running. Being able to fill in a date in the right place is invaluable. (Another hint – if your runner is a notary public, getting deal docs done just got a whole lot easier.)

@11 – I agree that the receptionist has other qualifications than her degree (in fashion design, no less). OTOH, she says she likes it better than her chosen field selling overpriced garments to bridezillas.

@28 has hit the nail on the head. I have hired a lot of paralegals in the last quarter century. The best paralegals I've found aren't those with the paralegal studies certificates from the for-profit trade schools; not only do they not know anything, they can't read and write. At this point, a paralegal certificate gets your resume straight to my circular file. I'd *much* rather hire a fresh college graduate with a liberal arts degree who is capable of wielding verbs and punctuation. I can teach how to read a title insurance policy or make a UCC filing very quickly; teaching how to read and write takes much longer, and I no longer have the patience for it.

By Readin' 'n Ritin' on 2013 02 22, 5:33 pm CST

That chick's pretty hot--she should go into marketing or PR--make some nice money.

By Essence on 2013 02 22, 7:34 pm CST

Why not hire all the Law School grads who can't find work as an attorney. Seven dollars per hour is better than zero dollars per hour. If hired, their Law School can claim that they are working in the legal field at such and such Law Firm. LOL.

By Henry Legere on 2013 02 22, 7:48 pm CST

1) The firm is in Atlanta, which is the Mecca for any college grad in Georgia and large parts of Tennessee, and the Carolinas, so no doubt the firm has a large talent pool to draw from. And given the locale, I rather agree with the suggestion that the purpose (at least in some part) of the policy is to ensure hiring pretty young women. ;-)
2) Having taught in the University system of Georgia, I find myself in agreement with NCLawyer. I've had students who could not craft a coherent paragraph. I have used old Time-Life videos (the WWII documentaries) in class because the textbooks were too difficult for many of the students.
3) Totally agree with #26.

By Vastly Amused on 2013 02 22, 10:05 pm CST

This will massively backfire.

College has become so ungodly expensive. No one can afford to be a messenger boy for $7 an hour after spending $40,000 to $100,000 to get a college degree.

By Lygeia on 2013 02 22, 10:46 pm CST

I note that a few of the posters above apparently hail from educational backwaters where people don't learn to read or write until they are in university. In such back-woodsy settings, I can see how the degree requirement might be needed (but around here, people still learn that stuff in the second and third grade).

By B. McLeod on 2013 02 22, 11:49 pm CST

Everyone is making it too complicated. It's their firm, let them run it as they see fit, as long as it's legal and basically ethical. Are the "lowly" job holders complaining?, I like working with educated people at any level, so I can see where, given the choice in today's job market, I want educated people too. And no one forced them to take the job. The job holders almost surely have other interests outside the job, aspirations, and the job gives them sustenance for now, something equivalent to the actor waiting tables. If they are truly smart and ambitious, they will get better jobs, and this job will end up on their resumes,with even a hint of pride, and maybe they made some friends along the way.

By Dirk Gutzmiller on 2013 02 23, 1:12 am CST

IMO, the owners of any American law firm (or any other business doing business in America) who decides to require a college education to be qualified for low-level jobs like runner or receptionist should be charged with intentional discrimination. Why?

Because ALL American lawyers are bright enough to know that the actual effect of this very stupid decision eliminates a much larger percentage of women and minorities than male caucasions.

For those of you who want to read more about the pain coming at you if your law firm adopts this discriminatory plan go look up the term "disparate impact" which is still actionable in America.

By Thomas Howell Springfield on 2013 02 23, 11:33 am CST

Exactly. Which also casts grave doubt on the extent to which this idiocy is either legal or ethical. But then, law firms tend to be the least progressive when it comes to either knowing or caring about modern HR laws and practices. I hope somebody takes these jackwagons down, since they were stupid enough to boast about what they're doing in the national media.

By B. McLeod on 2013 02 23, 5:16 pm CST

@39 -- I don't think you can say that requiring a college degree discriminates against females. Females outnumber males in U.S. colleges and universities, and they have a higher graduation rate. That doesn't mean that there's no discrimination at all. My guess is that, in most businesses, the receptionist position is considered to be a woman's job, while executive and managerial positions are considered men's jobs. That's changing, of course. There are male receptionists and female executives and managers, but U.S. businesses, law firms included, are generally run by men and still seem to prefer pretty young females at the reception desk.

Requiring a college degree does disparately impact minorities, though, because fewer minorities attend college, and fewer still graduate.

By The authentic LAB on 2013 02 23, 7:19 pm CST

Back in the 60s, I remember reading, "A society which values philosphers too highly over plumbers will find that neither its philosophy or pipes will hold water." This is true.

As far as being able to communicate, I agree about the English majors. I teach college on line. I once got "scolded" for saying that I expected a better paper from a high school student. I wasn't told that I was not correct, I was told not to say that again.

Also, we had a judge who was an English major who had gone to law school. He often corrected grammar. Not too much for me as, if I had a question and he was available, I would ask him.

By Redneck Lawyer on 2013 02 23, 7:42 pm CST

My first job out of college and before law school was a file clerk at a law office. It required a college eduation. This was in 2004.

By You call this coffee!? on 2013 02 23, 9:35 pm CST

When the chips are down and you are low on ordnance, fixing bayonets, and with a French unit supporting on your left, you will be better served by a simple Scottish Sergeant than by any English Major.

By B. McLeod on 2013 02 23, 11:34 pm CST

Not sure about the rest of the country, but a great many California "college grads" are essentially illiterate.

By Marc on 2013 02 25, 8:31 pm CST

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