Please note: NALP's Principles and Standards do not condone rescinding offers. However, in recognition that rescission does occasionally occur, NALP presents this article with suggestions for ameliorating the situation.
In the heady hiring times of the mid and late 1990s, the practice of rescinding an offer, extended by a legal employer and accepted in good faith by a candidate (a student or law graduate), was practically unheard of. Unfortunately, times change. The employment market is cyclical, and periodic economic shifts occur — sometimes in the overall hiring market and sometimes in specific sectors.
A decision to rescind an offer is never easily made by an employer. Nor is it easily received by a law student. The student is understandably angry and hurt; the employer is embarrassed and defensive. How can career services, students, and employers work together to mitigate such a troublesome situation? Here are some suggestions on ways to ameliorate the tension and hardship caused by a rescinded offer.
Mutual understanding is key
Perhaps the first and most important step is for everyone to try to understand the other party's position. The student's anger is a natural reaction to suddenly being unemployed in a less than vibrant market and having to look for a job (possibly even outside the ordinary recruiting cycle). Students who received more than one offer may be particularly resentful when it appears they made the wrong choice. Many students believe that signed offer and acceptance letters guarantee that a job will be waiting for them when they arrive.
The situation can be no less difficult for employers. Decisions to rescind offers are most often made only after an agonizing process in which employers weigh many factors. Rescinded offers are typically part of a larger plan to reduce costs that includes other layoffs. Understandably, employers usually feel more of a sense of responsibility to retain current employees than future ones. Employers are acutely aware of the hardship that rescission imposes on students, and they recognize the long-term effect the action will have on their recruiting efforts.
Options and alternatives do exist
Employers should develop a comprehensive plan to help the affected law student(s) when they are forced to rescind offers that have already been accepted. This is not only the humane thing to do but also the smart thing from a public relations standpoint. Even if an employer has no intention of hiring again (a very unlikely scenario given today's mobile attorney workforce), the summary rescission of offers without assistance can cripple an institution's public image for years, affecting both law student and lateral recruiting.
Before rescinding an offer, employers should consider any and all alternatives to such an extreme step. Possible alternative arrangements include (but may not be limited to):
At a minimum, employers should provide assistance to the affected candidate that includes a strong letter of reference explaining the circumstances of the rescinded offer. The letter should designate an appropriate contact person, such as a member of the hiring committee, as a personal reference on behalf of the candidate. This person could also serve the employer well as their official contact, thus ensuring that all parties receive the same information. Some employers may be in a position to assist the student with clerical assistance in sending out résumés, cover letters, and letters of reference.
Employers may also want to provide some financial remuneration to affected students. Some employers have offered their standard severance package, based on the salary the student would have earned as an attorney. With recent graduates feeling the strain of no income and a mountain of debt, it seems reasonable to expect that, even in circumstances of a rescinded offer, employers would honor their commitment to cover the costs of bar review courses and bar exam fees.
In the event that an employer decides to honor some offers but rescind others, it is critical that all determinations on who keeps their job and who doesn't are made fairly and documented clearly.
As important as it is for employers to plan their course of action, career services staff and students should recognize that rescinding an offer is a choice of last resort for the employer. Students should be counseled not to burn bridges with the employer by being unreasonably demanding or antagonistic. Employers, embarrassed or defensive about the situation, may not know how best to help the student, so the student — or perhaps the career services office on behalf of the student — should propose options for assistance similar to those described here.
By handling this difficult situation in a responsible and humane manner, students, career services, and employers can work together to mitigate the effects on all parties involved.
This article is adapted from an article published in the August 2001 NALP Bulletin.