Pity the Lawyers: UM Will Pay Others To Hire Law School Grads

​A righteous anger has lately been seething from the most unlikely and urbane of American institutions. Inside ivy-shaded law schools from Columbia to Berkeley, students facing six-figure debts and zero job prospects are howling that JDs aren't much more than university approved shams. Blogs like Shilling Me Softly have stirred the anger, and last month a Boston College student earned headlines by begging his chancellor to give him back his tuition. "It's really just a Ponzi scheme," a Seton Hall law student and blogger named Scott Bullock told the New Jersey Star-Ledger this summer.

The latest sign of law grads' dire straits comes from Coral Gables, where the University of Miami is trying to bolster the grim market for the 350 or so new lawyers set to graduate next spring by offering their up services -- for free.

The new program, called the Legal Corps, will place graduating students without job offers at public agencies, public interest organizations and judicial chambers for six months. The firms and courts will pay nada, while UM will pick up a $2,500 monthly stipend.

"It's great to know that we've got this as a fallback option," says Irma Khoja, a 26-year-old South Florida native who will graduate next spring.

UM's program has earned accolades for its realistic approach. In 2009, the school asked incoming students to consider deferring enrollment for a year. In a letter, Dean Patricia White asked would-be lawyers to check their motivations before committing, saying that anyone who viewed law school "as a safe harbor... [to] wait out the current economic storm" should "think hard about your plans."

Now, UM is one of the first schools in the nation to offer its new grads' talents for free to cash-strapped public service-minded firms and judges. 

"We believe that Legal Corps is the first serious attempt by a law school to contribute in a significant way to both the enormous unmet need for legal services and the harsh economic realities faced by recent law school graduates," White says in a release.

The pragmatic message might be tough to stomach, but most law students appreciate it, Khoja says.

"What's great about UM is they're very practical and realistic compared to other schools who see this as just an opportunity to get more applications and more revenue," she says. 

Like the vast majority of her classmates, Khoja doesn't have any offers lined up yet. She won't apply to the Legal Corps unless nothing else materializes -- but at least it's there, forestalling any urge to join the ranks of enraged law school bloggers.

"I'm just trying to stay as positive as I can," she says, "because it's the only way to get through the semester."

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink