cum laude) forwarded me this Above The Law story about a T14 graduate who got a high-profile and well-paid government job through -how else? - connections:
The article notes that Fenster got the job despite having "no experience in workers' comp or labor law". So how did he get this coveted position after being laid off from his biglaw job last year? Via Inside Workers Comp NY:
Fenster, a 29-year-old lawyer who previously worked for a short time at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, was recently selected by Governor David Paterson to serve as executive director of the Workers’ Compensation Board of New York State.
I have received a number of communications indicating that Fenster got his resume submitted for this position with the help of an old college buddy from the University of Michigan, Debra Feinberg, and their mutual friend, Stephen Levin. Levin, who ran successfully for City Council from Brooklyn this past November was former Chief of Staff to Assemblyman Vito Lopez, who happens to be the chairman of the Brooklyn Democratic Party. Feinberg, who was a legislative aide to Assemblyman Lopez, was the campaign manager for Levin.I'm not posting this story to bash Mr. Fenster and the method in which he secured an amazing job. Kudos to him. This is simply a reminder to readers that oftentimes doing everything right isn't enough to get the job. Nepotism is a tale as old as time. It happens during good economic times as well as bad and it is still the single most important factor in getting a job. It is how the world's elite and their friends and family keep their hands on the reigns of wealth and power.
Lopez’s need to place somebody in a job came up at the same time there was a vacancy at the Workers Comp Board for a “short-timer” as everybody understands that come the first month or two of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration, this job will be filled with someone with real experience.
This is consistent with what we’ve heard here at ATL, in comments and by private emails. We’ve also heard that Debra Feinberg may be more than just Fenster’s “buddy.” From an ATL tipster:[Fenster’s] girlfriend, Debby Feinberg, works as a Democratic operative in Brooklyn. People don’t just get that type of position by submitting their resume [as Fenster seemed to suggest to the NYT]. Jeff is a good guy and was a reasonably decent student at Michigan, but it was a classic case of “it’s not what you know but who you know.”
I wrote in my inaugural post yesterday about the education myth - that it does not guarantee more wealth and success. Graduates of Tier 2 and 3 law schools know this all too well. I'd like to make an addendum to that statement. Education helps the children of those already in power have a better chance at more wealth and success. The fact that the majority of the students you find at T14 law schools come from upper middle class and wealthy backgrounds is not a mistake. Angel and I come from working class backgrounds. We are an anomaly in the halls of T14 schools and biglaw. This, wherein lies the problem for many of our readers.
Higher education - from rankings to admissions - is a system that for the most part benefits the ruling class. If you're poor or middle class it is often a lose-lose situation. Poor children usually don't receive a quality high school education and don't have the money for test prep courses to make them competitive candidates for the best colleges let alone the best law schools. The brightest of the poor students often turn down opportunities to attend better schools because they can't afford the high tuition. They certainly don't have the connections to get the best jobs after graduation - or any job during a recession. Poor students will nearly always take the greatest risk in investing in a costly yet lower-ranked education. They're damned if they do and they're damned if they don't. Which is why more people are beginning to understand that apprenticeships in a trade such as plumbing might be a better route for working class children. Construction and plumbing pays well and it is a more realistic expectation than, say, becoming the executive director of the Workers’ Compensation Board of New York State. We now know those jobs are off limits to applicants without the right connections.
More from the Above the Law article:
True. It is certainly how the world works. But how does a law school grad from Podunk, USA "network"? It isn't so easy for a person who went to school on merit but does not possess the family connections, a boyfriend, or a girlfriend in a position of influence and power to simply network to get a job. Angel and I could go to a hundred networking events and short of marrying a partner or politician, I doubt either of us would come away with a job offer. The job almost always still goes to a friend, a friend of a friend, a daughter, a son, a neighbor's child, a member of their church, temple, alma mater, or boarding school. In short, the job goes to someone who belongs in their social class, their community, their neighborhood, their world. The terms networking and connections are used by people who already have an "in" with a personal link. This recession has taught the poor a lesson in education: it is directly tied to wealth and privilege and no amount of it will put you on the same playing field as someone with a connection.
Almost all of the folks we’ve met who have been lucky enough to land legal jobs during the Great Recession did so through networking or connections. This is true not just for people who have found jobs at, say, small law firms, but even some lawyers we now who found jobs with the federal government. It’s helpful to have a friend “on the inside” at a government agency, who can let you know immediately when a position opens up — sometimes even before it’s publicly posted — and who can bring your application to the attention of the hiring authority.Some of you might not like the role that connections play in the job hunt, since it’s not exactly a pure meritocracy. But it’s the way the world works. So get used to it — and order up some business cards for yourself (even if you’re currently “in transition” / unemployed, or just a law student; you can put your personal contact info on your cards).