Law school pays more graduates to work in dismal job market

The GW Law School is handing out more checks this year to put 95 members of its newly graduated class in paid, full-time legal positions, spending $2 million to $3 million to cushion their fall into the sluggish legal job market.

Participation surged by about 19 percent this year for the Pathways to Practice program, which officially began Monday. It pays students $15 an hour to work 35-hour-a-week internships at mid-sized law firms and nonprofits.

“I want them to understand that the law school is doing absolutely everything we can to help them with the transition into the job market,” Dean Paul Schiff Berman, who expanded the program after he arrived in 2011, said. “We’ve created what I believe to be the most generous program of its kind in the country. The more students in the program, the more likely they’ll be hired permanently, which is the ultimate end.”

The growth of the school-funded program, with about 17 percent of the Class of 2012 participating, comes as the American Bar Association’s new employment reporting standards could shift the rankings landscape.

Because of new rules that require schools to disclose how many students are in school-funded or short-term jobs, the ABA and the nonprofit law school watchdog Law School Transparency reported in June that only 55 percent of law graduates nationwide nabbed full-time positions that required bar passage, a historic low.

GW’s law school graduates fared much better, with 81 percent finding full-time positions that require bar passage.

Law schools at Duke University and University of Miami have similar programs. Twenty-seven Miami graduates participated in its program this year, which pays students a $2,500 monthly stipend for six months, Tamesha Keel, a career adviser at the law school, said.

He said he publicized the two-year-old program more this year in the midst of nervous times for aspiring lawyers, promoting it at meetings with third-year students and adding posters to the school’s hallways.

The money comes partly from fundraising and is also drawn out of the law school’s $80 million operating budget, the second-year dean said. Students who work in the program for a whole year make about $28,000.

Berman said the maximum time for students to stay in the program is one year. Of the Class of 2011 graduates who entered Pathways to Practice last year, 16 members – one-fifth of the program – are still without permanent jobs, Berman said.

Jesse Weintraub worked in the school-funded program last year, taking a position at a business law firm in southeastern Pennsylvania. Through the program, he found a permanent spot as an associate at the international law firm Bracewell & Giuliani in New York City. He said the program “enabled me to gain some practical law firm experience, make new connections and fill in what would otherwise have been a gap in my resume while I looked for a job.”

The program came under the law school’s microscope this summer after Berman announced he was cutting back the hourly wage from $15 to $10 after hearing “several anecdotal reports of graduates turning down paying work so that they can remain in the Pathways Program and hopefully find more desirable work later.”

After students took issue with the cuts, Berman reversed course less than 24 hours later, restoring the full stipend.

“I think it’s a good thing in a sense that I want students to feel that the law school is doing everything it can to help them find permanent employment,” he said. “It should not, however, be a replacement for a real job search. As long as students are seeing this only as a pathway to a full-time job, then it’s an unadulterated good thing.”

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