Law School of Hard Knocks: Subsidizing Unemployed New JDs


Harvard Law School, Photograph of front facade, Austin HallTimes have changed.  The legal job market now tilts in favor of law firms, not law school graduates.  Newly minted JDs are competing with laid-off associates who have years of experience, and are already admitted to the bar.

Some law schools have opted to subsidize their unemployed new graduates by either paying them or law firms, so that their JDs can garner relevant work experience in their new profession.

Here is a look at four law schools that subsidize unemployed graduates looking for work:

  • In April, Duke University’s Law School Dean David Levi announced that the school targeted 100% employment for its graduating class. “Our students deserve to leave here with a job,” Levi vowed.  So, the Blue Devils launched their ‘Bridge to Practice’ program, an eight- to 12-week fellowship at a non-profit or legal advocacy group. After spending approximately $60,000/year for 3 years (Duke estimates this year’s law school student budget at $67,000), these unemployed lawyers-to-be certainly deserve to be thrown a bone.
  • Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law pays for-profit law firms $3,500 for a one month ‘Test Drive’ of SMU’s unemployed law graduates “to evaluate on a trial basis.”   The catch? First, the firm must have “an identified need to hire a new associate for full-time, long term employment.”  Second, SMU graduates are not contractors, but employees of the law firm, even for only a month, making the firm “responsible for all federal and state withholding tax and other deductions.”
  • The University of Texas at Austin’s Law School started its ‘Long Career Launch Program’ in 2008, giving unemployed JDs a $6,000 stipend to serve as unpaid legal interns at non-profits, public interest groups, or government agencies while waiting for bar results.
  • The University of Miami School of Law recently announced its Legal Corps Postgraduate Fellowship Program, a fancy name for giving an unlimited number of stipends, for up to 6 months, to new JDs who work as unpaid lawyers (while waiting for bar results) in non-profit, public interest, or government jobs.  Law School Dean Patricia White candidly explained that “this is the first serious attempt by a law school to come to grips with the fact that the job market for lawyers is, for a variety of reasons, in trouble right now, and at the same time the need for legal services is at an all-time high.”

Some observers note that law schools like Duke use their unemployed graduate assistance program to claim a 100% employment rate for their graduates, which helps improve their U.S. News and World Report’s Law School Rankings.

Once upon a time, going to law school gave JDs-to-be thoughts of job security, a life in the law, and an ability to pay back hundreds of thousands of dollars in accrued law school and college loan debt.

Attending law school now feels a bit like heading to the carnival.  You know the kind we’re talking about: you drop $20-30 in tokens and get back an unpredictable number of tickets for the games you play.  But what will those tickets buy you?  Usually just a 50¢ trinket.  Your $20 investment in carnival tickets results in a 97.5% loss (assuming, that is, you can even re-sell the trinket).

Law schools are not far behind. They collect tuition from students for three years, but can’t guarantee their JDs will find work after graduation. Many law school graduates will be saddled with more than $150,000 in debt, a sum that is difficult to pay back quickly if you are not working at Big Law.

For new lawyers, this is an invaluable lesson from the School of Hard Knocks.  This is the stuff they don’t teach you in law school.  You can never guarantee the outcome of a jury trial.  You can’t promise your client that they will be better off after litigation, or that a settlement will be resolved in their favor. And you can’t guarantee that you’ll find paid work as a lawyer, at least right after graduating from law school.

Image via Wikipedia