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SEP 16, 2020 WEDNESDAY

Widener Law Commonwealth named first in job placement by preLaw magazine

The online publication preLaw has put Widener University Commonwealth Law School in the top spot for job placement among those schools that do not attract the top 1% of students.

The magazine said the fact that top ranked law schools consistently show high job placement numbers proves only that they are “fulfilling what was expected.” What is more insightful, according to the magazine, is looking at law schools that are ranked lower but still place graduates in good jobs at high rates.

Using a process called linear regression, preLaw was able to find an algebraic equation that best predicts a law school’s employment rate based on its students’ Law School Admission Test scores and undergraduate grade point averages. By comparing a school’s actual employment rate with the rate predicted by LSAT scores or GPAs alone, preLaw can see how a school fares by comparison with an average law school with similar incoming student scores.

In an interview with Widener Law Commonwealth Assistant Dean of Career Development Eden L. Mandrell, the magazine highlighted the fact that 74 of the 76 2019 graduates had jobs, with 83% of them obtaining “bar passage required” positions – the gold standard for law school graduates.

In the interview, Dean Mandrell discussed the significant changes implemented in Widener Law Commonwealth’s experiential learning programs and career services, including one that requires all  students to meet with her personally. She also began using the 12Twenty Career Center software, which pushed all career center services and interactions online, a more comfortable fit for today’s  law students.

Another change noted by preLaw was the separation of Widener Law Commonwealth’s career services and externship offices. At the same time, Elizabeth G. Simcox, who had previously served as the Dean of Students and Director of Externships was recruited to return as the Coordinator of Externships. Simcox had also served as the Executive Director of the Dauphin County Bar Association, the fourth largest county bar association in Pennsylvania. 

Simcox said that externships effectively build the bridge from law school to legal practice. She praised WLC’s decision to give equal weight to the law school’s career placement and externship programs, saying that this has allowed the administration to enlarge the net and continually expand the pipeline to fulltime jobs in the community.

“Because we are located in the state capital, our students have a unique advantage in getting externships in state agencies, in addition to the many county-based judicial and law enforcement opportunities,” Simcox said. “It seems like state and county agencies always have a hiring freeze, but our students are able to get these jobs because they are seen almost as lateral hires, because they had been externs.”

Even with the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, Simcox said that the Widener Law Commonwealth externship program remains strong. She points to some recent relationships she has built that are further afield, including one with Disability Rights of West Virginia, which until recently was run by a Widener Law Commonwealth alumnus. Similarly, she has begun placing veteran students with Legal Services of the Hudson Valley in New York State, which handles cases dealing with Veteran’s disability appeals.

Simcox said she is also working on developing externships in the trade association sector in Harrisburg, which is large but traditionally has not been actively engaged with law schools. She recently placed an extern with the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors, a first for Widener Law Commonwealth.

The pandemic has been a challenge, Simcox said, but she is happy with how many of the law school’s partners have continued their externship programs. She placed 35 students in externships over the past summer, fewer than last summer but more than expected given the COVID pandemic. She currently has 27 students placed in externships, which she said is fairly typical for the fall semester.

While mindful of the impact the pandemic has had on families and the economy, Simcox said she remains optimistic about the future for Widener Law Commonwealth’s students. “I hope that this, too, shall pass,” she said. “I am convinced that new opportunities will materialize, even out of COVID, in new practice areas and new specialties that require good, smart minds – which is what law school gives you.”

Mandrell agreed, saying that she sees major differences with the current pandemic from the Great Recession of 2008-09. At that time, she was a legal recruiter with Major, Lindsey & Africa and saw the hiring market come to an abrupt halt. “Today, people still need lawyers and we are seeing a spirit of cautious experimentation – let’s get back to work and see what happens,” she said.

Mandrell said that Widener Law Commonwealth students remain poised for success.

“We have done a lot of hard work at the law school to develop strong and deep relationships with government agencies, law firms, in-house corporate departments, judges and many others,” she said. “This network and our reputation for producing ready-to-work lawyers will serve us well, COVID or no COVID.”

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