First, I’d like to say welcome to the new bloggers! I’m super pumped to have an infusion of new life (and a break from my absurdity) on this blog. I’m looking forward to reading your posts!
Second, now that I’m almost to the halfway point in law school – I’d like to shed some light on the elephant in the room… AKA the fact that WashU is located in St. Louis. While I have truly enjoyed my experience at WashU so far, I have to admit that growing up in St. Louis, it felt somewhat disconnected from the community. I think this poses some interesting and nuanced challenges for students, faculty, employers, and St. Louisans in general – and instead of choosing sides, (can you tell I’ve read Getting to Yes? ha.) I’d like to mitigate some of the tension by explaining the situation as I see it and providing some tips on way WashU Law students can improve their experience in STL both socially and professionally.
I have heard out-of-towners mention the St. Louis “complex” frequently and I think it’s an important starting point for this discussion. Essentially, St. Louis is viewed as feeling inferior to other cities and therefore its people/employers are less-than-open to outsiders. I think this stems from a vicious cycle of people on the coasts saying less-than-courteous things about St. Louis and St. Louis clamming up in response – but regardless of its roots – there is some truth to this “complex” idea, and it has real implications.
When STL employers interview Washington University law students, they frequently ask questions like: “do you plan to stay in St. Louis?” “do you have connections to St. Louis” “why St. Louis?” Why? Well, because of the “complex” and also because of the actions of many students/recent grads, local law firms have become hesitant about hiring people who don’t like St. Louis and don’t plan to stay. Law Firms, especially big ones, lose money on new hires their first few years while they’re learning the ropes. They hope to recoup that investment when associates remain at the firm and bill hours in years to come. When people who do not wish to remain in St. Louis cut their teeth at the expense of these firms and then take their skills (and that law firm’s investment) out of state – it’s only logical that there is some frustration. This isn’t to say every single person from New York, California, or any other state has no capacity to love St. Louis the way locals do, or that people shouldn’t have autonomy to follow their career path wherever it takes them – it’s just a broad interpretation of some of the perils of being a big school in a city with a small town feel.
Between the varying legal market, an uncertain economy, and the propensity for young professionals’ goals to change – it is difficult to commit to a certain path or a certain city. I don’t believe any St. Louis employer expects that someone who has only lived here 5 months will walk into an interview and truthfully exclaim that they 100% for certain will spend the rest of their professional life here. And those that do (trust me, many think this is a great idea) come off as phony. I think if you are someone who wants a firm job and you are willing to work in St. Louis for the summer, honesty is the best policy. For Example:
Question: “I see you’re from California and went to college in Boston. So, why St. Louis?”
Bad Answer: “Well I’ve lived here for 5 months and I feel like I’ve pretty much seen the whole city. I love toasted ravioli, going out on Delmar, and hey! You can’t argue with the Cardinals!”
Better Answer: “I just moved here in August, but so far I’m really enjoying the city. My ultimate goal is to live in the midwest, so I could see myself working in St. Louis. What is most important to me though, is that I find a job at a firm that is compatible with my professional interests. Your firm’s ABC department handles the type of litigation that I have always wanted to do.”
The first answer patronizes the St. Louis employer. (Mini-rant here: St. Louis is made up of 79 distinct and diverse neighborhoods with differing food, culture, and architecture. I’ve lived here nearly my whole life and haven’t finished exploring. Out-of-towners who think they’ve seen all there is to see are more than likely mistaken.) It also exaggerates the already obvious fact that you aren’t quite acclimated to your surroundings. The better answer admits your differences but turns the tone of the conversation to something more positive and more important. Beginning with an honest but positive comment followed by redirecting the question to something that shows your specific interest in the firm and a stronger commitment to the job will put you in control of the conversation and let you frame the “St. Louis issue” on your own terms.
Another quick tip: be open minded about where you are. I saw this car driving the other day, and not only were my feelings a little hurt, but I was also amazed at how (pardon my blunt-ness) stupid this person is to have such a negative attitude in this economy. Jobs do not magically fall from the sky into your lap – and even if you don’t want to work in Missouri, having this type of attitude in general is not a good look.
I hope you don’t read this post as saying “you’ll never work in St. Louis if you’re not from here!” Because that simply is not true. I also want you to know that if you don’t want to work in St. Louis, WashU has a great national-reach and the sky is the limit if you work hard. The point of this post is to just make people aware of the dynamics of the legal market in St. Louis and hopefully provide some helpful tips so that out of state students can successfully navigate their interviews.
Additionally, I hope you’ll all keep an open mind about what St. Louis has to offer – event if you have no intentions of ever working here. We can all agree that New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, etc. are bigger, brighter cities… but that doesn’t mean you can’t cozy up to St. Louis! I mean, come on, Toasted Ravioli and the Cardinals! What’s not to like!
I hope you all have a great turkey day! I’ll be writing more frequently over break, etc…. posts to come: All About Journal, Section Wars, Guide to STL Nightlife, and other random 2L musings.