Free to Good Homes: U. of Miami Law Grads

October 12, 2010

High-paying jobs for young lawyers are hard to come by these days, but the University of Miami's School of Law plans to make sure that its recent graduates don't lack for work.

Next month the school will roll out its Legal Corps Postgraduate Fellowship Program, which will provide an unlimited number of monthly stipends of $2,500 to recent Miami law graduates who have passed a state bar exam and who take unpaid posts in the government or nonprofit sectors.

The school will pay the stipends for six months.

Administrators at the school say the length of the fellowships—along with the fact that there is no limit on the number of participants—sets them apart from similar programs at other law schools.

"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," said the law dean, Patricia D. White, "and at the same time the need for legal services is at an all-time high."

'The Need Is Huge'

The duration of the fellowships would give the newly minted lawyers time to gain practical experience while performing needed services for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations or governmental entities such as a public-defender's office. Once the stipend has run out, the graduate will have gotten a rolling start to a legal career, or so the thinking goes. Fellows will also participate in continuing-legal-education classes at no cost.

"The need [for legal services] is huge, and the ability to pay lawyers in public service is very low," Dean White said. "This is a national phenomenon and in no way unique to the University of Miami."

Indeed, many of America's top law schools have confronted the dearth of jobs by extending health-insurance benefits to their graduates, offering postgraduate programs to keep their skills sharp, and helping place them with public-service firms (The Chronicle, April 21, 2009). Most postgraduate programs last only one to three months. Some fellowships for graduates who work in nonprofit law might last up to two years but are limited in number.

Marcelyn R. Cox, an assistant dean at Miami's law school, said that donors would pay for part of the fellowships' cost and that the school would cover the rest, however much that might be. She added that Miami hopes to continue the program for as many years as is necessary.

About 430 people graduated from the university's law school in May 2010, a cohort for which employment statistics are not yet available. Ms. Cox said just over 92 percent of the members of the May 2009 class had either found jobs or entered graduate-degree programs within nine months of collecting their diplomas.

Miami's annual law-school tuition is more than $38,000. Each stipend is worth a total of $15,000 over six months.

The stipends were reported on Tuesday by the legal blog Above the Law, after Miami e-mailed prospective employers about the program to gauge their interest.