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Law Schools Provide Funding for Recent Grads
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Several law schools have programs in place that provide law school graduates with jobs in exchange for their offering legal services to the community at a reduced rate.

Summary: Several law schools have programs in place that provide law school graduates with jobs in exchange for their offering legal services to the community at a reduced rate.

According to ABC News, a grim job market for new attorneys and a movement to make legal fees more reasonable have caused many law schools in California and other states to provide funding for startup law firms.

  
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Roughly two dozen “legal incubators,” or fellowship programs, have popped up around the nation in the past few years, with two goals in mind: teaching graduates the basics of practicing law while providing legal services to those who may not otherwise be able to afford an attorney. More law schools are on track to join as well. The first such incubator program was created at the City University of New York Law School in 2007, right before the economy crashed.

Several of the programs have helped graduates create solo practices. Lilys McCoy, the head of The Center for Solo Practitioners at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, said, “The idea was to take new lawyers and give them the support that traditionally has not been provided in terms of setting up a business and also inspiring them to spend part or all of their practice doing modest-means work.” That program opened its doors in 2012.

Read about Vermont Law’s program here.

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Critics, however, wonder whether the true goal is to make a law school’s employment numbers look better. Critics also note that only a few graduates are helped by the programs.

Jeff Pokorak, the vice provost for faculty and curriculum at Suffolk University, prefers a model that would incorporate the training the incubators provides into the law school curriculum itself. He said, “Most of these are elite opportunities for individuals.”



The programs vary significantly in how they support graduates, as well as their requirements for work. For example, Whittier Law School provides nine alumni with subsidized office space at the Legal Aid Society of Orange County. Attorneys are required to perform at least 300 hours of pro bono legal services. Training includes marketing, office management, and tax risks. A grant to the legal aid society provided much of the funding.

Chris Markelz, an attorney in the program, remarked, “Going out on your own is scary. You have to pay your bills, you have to feed yourself.” With the assistance of the program, Markelz has progressed from meeting clients at the legal aid office to renting his own space in under a year. He works on landlord-tenant disputes, often charging no more than $75 an hour. He also helps clients with divorces, employee pay disagreements, and personal injury claims.

Click here to learn about Thomas Jefferson School of Law’s program.

Rutgers School of Law manages more of a true school-run law firm. Six graduates receive $30,000 to take classes on certain types of cases, such as grand theft, drugs domestic violence, and landlord-tenant disputes. Then, their clients are charged just $50 an hour and the money is sent back to the school. Since they are technically students, they are able to defer student loans and have health care through the school, Andrew Rothman, the Rutgers Law’s associate dean and managing attorney of the program said.

In 2014, the program lost $100,000, but it appears that will be made up this year. In fact, the school plans to double its fellows in the next three years.

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These startup law firms and incubator programs emerged in a depressing job market. Roughly 40 percent of all law graduates in the class of 2014 did not have full-time, long term jobs that required passing the bar exam by March 15, 2015, the American Bar Association reported. In fact, U.S. News even encourages law school hopefuls to consider attending a school with an incubator program.

Martin Pritikin, Whittier’s associate dean, said, “The practice of law is changing. Law schools need to view themselves as having responsibility to their students even after they graduate to help them transition.”

Whittier’s program provides a boost to graduates’ practices.

Five law schools in the San Francisco Bay Area are launching incubator programs next year. During the next six months, graduates must complete 20 hours of pro bono work and charge low fees for half the cases they handle. This low-fee requirement will for the duration of the two-year period.

Tiela Chalmers, the chief executive officer of the Alameda County Bar Association, commented, “Truly what we hope is that many of them will make this their business model well after the program ends.”

Source: ABC News

Photo credit: forbes.com



 

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