Like many law professors these days, I've watched in dismay as many graduating students find that the jobs they thought were waiting for them after graduation are no longer there, either eliminated entirely or deferred into the uncertain future. [I'm dismayed on a personal level — as a social and economic phenomenon, this retrenchment might well be a good thing; law firms are built on an entirely unsustainable business model; there is no rational marketplace in which a first-year associate can earn money for a firm paying her $150,000, and I'm not surprised to see that model stressed and deformed when adverse economic conditions hit]. It got me to wondering — aren't these firms breaching their contracts with these students? I'm no contracts expert — am I missing something? Firm X makes Student Y an offer, Y accepts, and then X withdraws the offer, or alters it without additional consideration being exchanged. Is that not a breach? And if it is, how long will it be before some student sues for damages?
Update: I understand that the "at-will" nature of the employment (assuming these are all at-will positions) changes the analysis -- but I'm not convinced it eliminates the cause of action for breach of contract. X offers (in September, 2008) to hire me beginning in September 2009, and I accept. They rescind the offer in April. I have damages, even though their promise to hire me would have allowed them to fire me immediately. I didn't look for another job in the intervening six months. I rented an apartment in NYC. I don't have health insurance.
The latter strikes me as potentially very important -- if I'm hired and then immediately fired as an at-will employee, I have all sorts of vested rights -- perhaps in the firm 401(k) plan, certainly in their health insurance coverage (which, once I'm fired, can't be taken away from me, as I understand things, for one year, by virtue of COBRA). Now, because they never hired me in the first place but instead rescinded the offer, I'm uninsured beginning in September. That's damage flowing from their breach of contract, no? If the goal of contract law is to place me in the position I would have been in had they performed as per their promise, I should get insurance for the year, no?
Related Posts (on one page):
- More on "Deferred" Law Firm Employment and Breach of Contract:
- Law Firms' Breach of Contract?: