Last week, I posted the startling observation that, based on a handful of examples, it appeared that significant numbers of well-ranked law schools were subsidizing the employment of significant numbers of their graduates nine months post-graduation. I promised to gather more data, and now I have what I’ve been able to assemble from publicly accessible sources on the top 50 US News-ranked law schools. Though available information is limited, I think it is fair to say that the initial observation is borne out by the additional data: Significant numbers of law schools--including some of the most prestigious law schools in the nation--are funding significant numbers of temporary “bridge” positions for their graduates. In fact, if the limited sample I was able to obtain is representative, we can say that three-quarters of the top 50 law schools in the United States are paying on average one in ten of their most recent graduates to work for the school or for someone else. Wow.
An astonishing 73% of the schools disclosing whether or not they fund such positions report that they do so in more-than-negligible quantities (more than 1% of the graduating class). (Out of the top 50 law schools in the most recent US News rankings, only 20, or 40%, reported how many members of their Class of 2010 were occupying school-funded “bridge” positions. Two more, or 4%, reported that they were funding such positions, but did not report how many. Those two were Yale (US News rank 1) and Columbia (US News rank 4). It thus is possible that this is not a representative sample, and that large numbers of the top 50 currently silent on the subject are silent because they don’t engage in the practice.)
Among top-50 schools reporting funding more-than-negligible numbers of bridge positions, the mean percentage of the graduating class occupying school-funded positions nine months after graduation is 9.7%; the median is 10.5%. Although two-thirds of the schools reporting negligible numbers of bridge positions were in the top 14, UVa (US News rank 7) placed 10.7% of its Class of 2010 in school-funded bridge positions, and Georgetown (US News rank 13) placed 10.2% of its Class of 2010 in such positions. Yale (US News rank 1) disclosed in a footnote that “a significant number” of its graduates reported as employed in public interest or government filled positions funded by “fellowships”; together those two categories cover 20.5% of Yale’s graduating class.
Here’s a chart with all the data I was able to gather on the top 50:
A few quick comments on the chart: Sorry about the small type; you can click on the chart to enlarge it, and immediately above this paragraph is a link so that you can download it in its native Excel format. Schools are ordered according to the most recent US News rankings. “Unknown” means I was unable to find the datum; “yes” means the school discloses that it funds the bridge positions, but does not disclose quantities. A few schools disclosed that they funded small numbers of “long-term” positions (the general standard for such positions is one year or more; thus judicial clerkships are typically disclosed as “long-term”). I assumed that, though they were potentially longer in duration, these were nevertheless temporary “bridge” positions and included them with the short-term bridge positions in the percentage calculations. This affected only two or three schools; Arizona State disclosed four “long-term” bridge positions, or about 2% of the graduating class; the others were even more trivial. Finally, UNC does not currently state on its website whether it funds postgraduate bridge positions, but because I work here I was able to ascertain that we don’t.
Where do we go from here? First of all, let’s expand and confirm the data. The website information was not always easy to find or interpret, and I’m only human. If I got something wrong about your school, please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or post a Comment. If your school is willing to disclose its data on bridge positions, please pass it on by email or Comment; I will update the chart periodically. Since it is likely that the ABA will require this disclosure by next year (see here and here), you may as well start now.
Please also consider volunteering bridge-position data concerning prior graduating classes. I am particularly interested in comparing incidence between recession classes (starting with the class of 2009) and pre-recession classes; it seems likely that this phenomenon increased dramatically as the legal job market crashed in later 2008 and 2009.
In addition, please consider volunteering information about who is getting these positions. Even with FERPA constraints, you should be able to disclose on a no-names basis class standing or other demographic information concerning those who took advantage of this benefit.
Finally, given the number of spectators driven to cry “fraud” at the slenderest opportunity, I feel compelled to reiterate a few things I pointed out in my original post on this subject. First, to my mind these data do not indicate any dishonesty on the part of reporting schools; I got this information from publicly accessible sources. Nor, for the same reason, do the data indicate any desire to mislead prospective applicants about their employment prospects. What the data do indicate is that the job market for entry-level lawyers is even weaker than we already believed, and is disappointing appreciable numbers of graduates at even some of the most prestigious law schools in the nation, schools whose prestige was generally believed to have rendered them immune to adverse employment markets. In other words, to the extent that legal employers are engaging in a “race to quality” these days, that race is not always to the swiftest schools. Why and how that may be happening will be the subject of future posts, and I encourage readers’ thoughts in the Comments.