A recent Faculty Lounge post on the correlation between prestige and paying law students “fellowships” to help boost employment data shows some eye-popping numbers to say the least. Call me naïve but in the first place, I had no idea that law schools were fudging their employment data by actually paying their students to work for them. My guess is that schools are dishing out money for the “out of luck” students to be researchers which doesn’t really count as a “legal job” in the way I’d define it at least (you too, maybe?).
These “not-what-we-came-into-law-school-to-do” jobs may provide students with a leg up in the job market, as one commentator on the Faculty Lounge suggests, as it lets the students put something (rather than nothing) down on their résumés and also (arguably) learn workable skills. Further, perhaps some of those school-funded “employed” students after graduation might have a better chance at shooting for an academic position, though my guess is not so likely, unless they happened to be the rare tops-in-grades, disaster-in-interviews students.
Most likely, they did not get a job because they weren’t at the top of their class (and, anyway, the top of the class are the ones most likely to get the academic positions in the long run, so I hear), so this “bridge to academic position” argument doesn’t fly by me. Also, I placed the “arguably” ahead of the “learn workable skills”, because I think three years of law school probably gave students enough research so that another 9 months of being a research assistant will not make much of a dent in the way of their lawyerly skill-set. Overall, I’m not seeing much long term benefit to the students being funded by their schools, but I see a whole lot of benefit to the schools for fudging their data.
I think for us students continuing along at school, it’s a comfort to know, “well, if I don’t get a real job, at least my school might pay me to work for a little while”. Or, if you go to a less prestigious (poorer) school, you might think, “if only I went to that nice rich school, I could at least live off the few crumbs their endowment so generously would dish out until I find a real job”.
Somehow, I’m less concerned about the students currently funded by schools (as they at least have a job) and also about us students who may have to face this fork in the road where our schools say, “oh so sorry, you’re unemployed at graduation, but hey, want to be a research assistant and we’ll pay you”? Well, golly, I think I’d say yes.
My two greatest concerns are for (1) prospective law students and (2) what I will call the “ick” factor.
PROSPECTIVE LAW STUDENTS
How many prospective law students are getting fully informed employment data as they start filling out the paperwork to get their student loans (aka sign away their souls on the dotted line to the devil of debt)?
THE “ICK” FACTOR
Personally, this whole thing just covers me in a layer of “ick”. The deceit. The lies. The betrayal to prospective students. And, the sad but apparent need for law schools to feel they have to kiss up to the US News Rankings instead of actually conduct themselves with honesty and integrity. I mean, isn’t that a part of what we’re supposed to learn in law school? This thing called ethics? When our schools participate in questionably unethical activities, what does that teach us?
I don’t know about you, but I’m going to start lying on my résumé to get a better job next summer. If law schools can fudge some data, why can’t I?