In dim job market, law school pays more graduates to work

by Liza Dee And Cory Weinberg

More graduates have trickled into the GW Law School’s paid, short-term internship program since it began in August, underscoring the slumping legal job market and costing the school up to $3 million.

More than one-fifth of Class of 2012 graduates are part of the Pathways to Practice program – an initiative that pays alumni $15 an hour to work 35 hours a week to gain experience.

The slight jump from 95 to 109 graduates in the program emphasizes the bleak job outlook for lawyers as the school welcomed its smallest first-year class in a decade.

Ranked at No. 20 nationally, the law school reported that 81 percent of Class of 2011 graduates found full-time positions nine months after graduation. That percentage was partly propped up by the 15 percent of graduates in law school-funded jobs, according to data compiled by the legal education policy organization Law School Transparency.

Only about 63 percent of Georgetown law graduates found jobs last year, while 89 percent of New York University law graduates did, with each school also funding some graduates’ jobs.

But as the program has ballooned, law students may be relying on it as a lifeline too much, second-year law student Nick Shepherd said. As students stare down the “all-consuming pressure to get a job and face a massive loan,” they are also weighing the benefits and detractors of the pathways program, he added.

“It’s another level of having an umbilical cord with the school. From what I understand, if they’re not employing you, you’re not really doing substantive legal work a lot of time,” he said. “Having a job with the school may encourage you to sit back. I don’t know if it’s the best incentive, and then you drain more resources.”

Gregory Maggs, the law school’s interim dean, said Monday that the program was an example of career services efforts, and that it helped students gain skills in a poor job market instead of sitting on the sidelines as unemployed.

“I’ve think it’s been very beneficial,” he said. “Students participating in it are getting experience. Though we’ve been running it since the fall, a number of students have gotten jobs. The students in it are happy that it’s available.”

Law school officials said they could not say how many students have gotten jobs after being in the program this year because they must report those numbers to the American Bar Association first.

Abe Pollack, associate dean for professional development and career strategy, said Monday that the number of students in the program fluctuates. Students jump on and off the list as they complete temporary assignments, making it difficult to pin down the number of students in the program, he said.

Maggs added that the program would continue at least through next year. He said the school would survey its next graduating class to gauge interest.

One Class of 2012 law graduate, who asked to remain anonymous for privacy reasons, is facing more than $100,000 in loans and entered into the pathways program in early December after she could not find a job. She is paid by the law school to work as a law clerk in a senator’s office.

She said she is “incredibly grateful for the program.”

“I think that it will eventually help in opening up opportunities for full-time employment, but it has not led to full-time employment in the two months I have been there,” she said. “I have less time to send out job applications because I am now busier than I would be if I were unemployed, but trust me, the incentive to find a real job is constantly there.”

Pollack said as the school expands its career services, like an on-campus interview program with employers, it would also need to continue to offer the pathways program for at least two more years.

“I don’t anticipate the economy recovering sufficiently in just two years that it will become unnecessary. If there was an economic miracle and everyone got jobs, it would look very different than it does now,” he said.

The program became a point of controversy last summer, when former dean Paul Schiff Berman said he was considering cutting hourly pay if students stayed in pathways jobs for the whole semester instead of landing outside positions. After a day of backlash from students and blogs, Berman reversed the decision.

Berman led the school for 18 months before he announced his move to the provost’s office last November.

The money for the job program comes from the school’s $80 million operating budget, with some costs offset by fundraising. The law school has looked to pump up its programming to make up for lost tuition revenue, adding about 15 students this year to its advanced L.L.M. programs in specialties like national security and energy.

Maggs said he would convene a faculty committee and may bring in consultants to sketch out fixes for student recruitment and career services.

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