NALP Bulletin, June 2013
Bridge-to-practice programs at law schools were the topic of a well-attended program at NALP's 2013 Annual Education Conference in Tampa. As panelists described the bridge-to-practice programs at their respective schools and the audience participated with questions and discussion, it was evident that these programs continue to evolve and that there is no one-size-fits-all model.
The general definition of these programs is that they provide recent law school graduates with an opportunity to develop and enhance their practical legal skills as they transition into the practice of law, generally by funding some type of fixed-duration, post-graduate work in one of several kinds of legal workplaces, including public interest organizations, government agencies, judicial offices, or private employers. Beneath that general definition, however, there is a great deal of variation in how these programs are implemented, as both the conference session and NALP research have shown.
For example, NALP's survey on bridge-to-practice programs as implemented for the Class of 2011 revealed that schools funded anywhere from a single to over 100 fellows, with funding levels ranging from a few thousand dollars to well over $1M. This research was followed by a second round, consisting of a follow-up interview with schools that agreed to answer more in-depth questions on certain aspects of their programs for the Class of 2011 and to provide employment outcomes for bridge-to-practice fellows from that class. Although the schools participating in these interviews span the country and include both private and public schools, the small number — 14 — means that the findings are more anecdotal than necessarily reflective of the much larger number of schools with such programs. Some of the findings of this second round of research are highlighted below. (For the full report of survey findings see www.nalp.org/bridge_to_practice_report, which also includes a link to the follow-up findings.)
The latter observation concerning employer expectations, with some employers having come to expect the free help and in fact wanting the graduates for longer periods of time than the fellowships can provide, also was a point of discussion at the conference session. Points of tension can arise between employers who would like help for more than three or six months and the goal of the program, which is generally to provide graduates with an advantage in securing long-term law-related employment.
The conference session discussion also corroborated the research findings that tracking employment outcomes of bridge-to-practice fellows is not as complete as it should be. Such tracking is critical to measuring the value of these programs, and is recommended as a best practice. Knowing the bottom-line results is surely important information for any school wishing to continue its program. There was also an interest in learning more about the programs in a comprehensive manner.
NALP plans to do just that, with a survey in the fall to answer additional questions about bridge-to-practice programs and, most important, to more thoroughly document the employment outcomes for fellows from the Class of 2012. School members should watch their in-boxes for this survey. If your school does not have such a program, please respond to the survey anyway, answering "no" to that initial question. This will help NALP gauge the prevalence of the programs. If your school did have a program in place for the Class of 2012, note that the survey will include questions on the employment outcomes of your fellows, both as of February 15, 2013, and as of August 2013. Your participation in the survey will help provide answers to questions of interest to you and your colleagues.