The usual suspects in an academic budget present themselves. For those schools that have significant endowments, the money could come from endowment funds, or from alumni contributions given for unrestricted purposes or specifically for this purpose. Conceivably there could be nonprofit grant money, particularly for the public interest and nonprofit positions that comprise many of the bridge positions (and to some degree this could occur “off-budget” by way of direct grants to students as opposed to grants to the law school). At state schools, the cost could be part of the funds the state’s legislature contributes to the school’s operations.
Finally, the money could be funded by student tuition. This is a much less silly idea than it might at first seem. I’ve already suggested that the right positions offered on the right terms to the right people might well be a sound strategy for helping certain recent graduates ease into the job market. This strategy won’t be as helpful to some graduates as others, but it appears that it can make, and is making, a real difference to some. And at a time when law graduates’ preparation for practice is increasingly (and in my humble opinion, fairly) criticized as inadequate, the strategy provides students in a position to make use of it a short but potentially very helpful practical apprenticeship.
So why not fund a set of these positions, calculated to approximate the number for whom it seems likely to make a difference, out of a tuition increase? Economically, this is just asking students to buy targeted unemployment insurance for the members of their class, including themselves. And while nothing is cheap, this is probably cheaper than you think. With full appreciation that this is a very coarse calculation that will vary from student to student based on resources and needs, and from region to region based on cost of living, suppose you conclude that about 10% of your graduating classes will not have jobs upon graduation, will not be able to support themselves without one, and would substantially benefit in the legal job market in the medium term from 6-12 months of subsidized employment post-graduation. (You can target the value of this benefit further by awarding the fellowships according to need, so that students who are better off financially can study for the bar and work at unpaid positions subsidized by their own or family resources.) $2,000 per month, while hardly extravagant, probably covers rent, food, bar expenses and taxes in most places outside the biggest cities; some folks in some parts of the country could eke it out on less.
At the high end, that’s (say) $24,000 for the year-long stipend. But only 10% of the class is going to get one of these grants, so that’s $2,400 per student. And since it’s spread over three years, that’s a maximum of $800 per student per year. And even that contribution is overstated, because some students will drop out or leave after a year or two, leaving their contribution in the “insurance pool” without retaining any ability to claim on it, and some others who need and get the benefit will not use the full year’s worth. If the school graduates the grant according to need, average cost per student goes down further. And if other sources of funding emerge (alumni gifts; other grants; other budgetary sources), that also reduces the need to fund through tuition.
What this amounts to is targeted unemployment insurance, or from a different point of view an opportunity for a short postgraduate apprenticeship in practice, for a few hundred dollars in tuition per student per year. Yes, a few hundred dollars more in tuition is a lot, though it’s dwarfed by the $35,000 to $50,000 per year most students are already paying.
It becomes pretty complicated to figure out what the effects on the job markets might be if the tactic becomes more common or even just more recognized. And as I stressed at the outset, this is clearly not an effective employment strategy for every person at every school still looking for work at graduation. But at some schools, it might be a very good idea for some people. And it may be more affordable than you think.