March 05, 2014
The Bright Side of Law School-Funded Jobs
Posted by Christine Hurt

Gary Rosin has a post at Faculty Lounge with interesting statistics about law school-funded jobs to new graduates.  Of course, the reason that we care is because of the rankings.  Law schools report their employment statistics and put these jobs in the "Bar Admission Required, Full-Time, Long-Term" category according to the post.  So, if you back out these jobs, then the numbers are different for about 14% of law schools.  The differences range from 1 percentage point to 20, with a median of about 2.65 percentage points.

I agree that students would be much better off if these law school-funded jobs were reported in a separate category, and that in general, if all employement statistics were reported at a much more granular level.

However, the tone of much of the discourse about law school-funded jobs is that students would be better off if there were no law school-funded jobs.  And there I feel I must disagree.  Disclosure:  Illinois is above the median on that list.

Shenanigans designed to merely move schools up or down in the rankings generally have no positive non-ranking effects.  However, law school-funded jobs have substantial non-ranking effects.  First, a law graduate without a job now has a job, with a salary, where there was none before.  Second, the best designed law school-funded jobs convert to employer-funded jobs.  For example, a law school may ask a firm, public interest organization, or corporation to take a chance on a law graduate with a promise of salary support for a certain period of time.  At the end of that period, if all goes well, then the employer will put the law grad on the payroll.  And, next year, that same organization may be more inclined to hire a new law grad on their own.  As long as this arrangement is disclosed, it seems similar to a summer internship for credit or a graduate school post-doc.

Of course, critics will point to two things, even if disclosed.  The first is just a variation on the scamblog meme:  See, you guys can't get your graduates jobs, so you have to offer them this second-rate "opportunity."  They went to law school because you said they would get real jobs.  OK, awesome.  It would be great if every graduate had an employment offer at graduation, but when it happens that they don't, isn't this a better solution than nothing?  Second, one argument would be that the law school is funding all of this with tuition dollars, so students are subsidizing these arrangements.  Yes, students tuition pays for many things, including facilities, utilities, salaries, programs, speaker series, colloquia, clinics, and scholarships.  Some students pay more than others, and some students get "costlier" education.  So yes, students without scholarships subsidize students with scholarships.  Students that don't take colloquia or clinics subsidize those that do.  At some schools, students not on journals may subsidize students on journals that are not self-supporting.  In undergraduate colleges, students in cheaper majors may subsidize students in more expensive majors.

Anyway, if I were a prospective students, as long as these arrangements were transparently disclosed and all other employment statistics were similar to peers, I would see them as a signal that the school supported its students and thought about problems in a creative way.

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