Bridge to Practice Programs — Follow-up Survey Results

March 2013

See the original November 2012 research here

At the time NALP conducted its survey of law school bridge-to-practice programs, a number of schools agreed to participate in a follow-up interview to answer more in-depth questions on certain aspects of their program for the Class of 2011 and to provide employment outcomes for bridge-to-practice fellows from that class. This resulted in a total of 14 schools (out of the original 84 survey respondents, 46 schools reported having a bridge-to-practice fellowship program of some sort) participating in a follow-up interview.

The responses from those interviews are synthesized below. Though these schools span the country and include both private and public schools, these findings, particularly the employment outcomes, are more anecdotal than necessarily reflective of the much larger number of schools with such program. One surprising finding is that law schools did not necessarily track whether bridge-to-practice fellows were subsequently employed after the conclusion of the fellowship period if that point in time fell after February 15. As a result, there is not as much information — at least among these schools — on the status of fellows as of August 2012 (or about 15 months after a typical May graduation). While not required by NALP or the ABA, tracking this information is suggested as a best practice, as it provides a means to measure the effectiveness of bridge-to-practice programs in helping graduates obtain legal and law-related jobs.

NALP plans to conduct a second survey during the fall of 2013 on bridge-to-practice programs as implemented for the Class of 2012. This survey will focus primarily on employment outcomes for fellows as of February 15, 2013 and as of August 2013. We hope that more schools will participate in order to gain a better understanding of how widespread these programs are and of their effectiveness in helping graduates obtain long-term employment.


Post-Fellowship Employment

1. A total of 11 schools were able to report on the employment status of their fellows as of February 15, 2012, and eight have some information on employment status as of August 2012, or about 15 months after the majority of this class graduated. Note that because some programs are structured to have more than one, or rolling, start dates, which may be after February 15th, the August figures include some individuals who started their fellowship after February 15, 2012.

As of February 15, the majority (60%) of the approximately 470 fellows accounted for were still in their fellowships. At some schools, all were. Most of the rest were employed in some way, though the exact nature of the employment was not always known. Where it was known, nearly all were with the fellowship employer or in a related position, with "related" defined as there being a connection between the kind of work done or the subject matter expertise in the fellowship and the new job. As of February 15, a few former fellows were engaging in other activities such as pursuing an LLM or in the Teach for America program.

As of August 2012, about one in ten fellows were still in their fellowships, about 60% were known to be employed, usually with the fellowship employer or in a related position, and a handful were either not employed or pursuing an LLM. The status of about one-quarter of the fellows at these eight schools was not known as of August 2012.

These findings on employment outcomes should not be extrapolated to the entire population of Class of 2011 graduates, over 1,700 of whom had a job funded by their law school, either a bridge-to-practice fellowship or an on-campus research fellow or similar position.

Fellowships as Ongoing Programs with Future Funding

2. All the schools participating in the follow-up calls about the Class of 2011 program continued their program for the Class of 2012, and have funded so far well over 500 fellows from that class. However, because not all schools have completed funding for that class, the number is likely to grow. Every school also expressed a desire to continue the program for the class of 2013, and in most cases, continuation of the program is a certainty, though the funding level may not be known, or the program is expected to continue and the funding will be known when the upcoming budget is announced. Some schools have started gauging interest on the part of 2013 graduates, while others have not yet announced the program to that class, though as a number of schools noted, students have come to expect it. A few schools explicitly noted that their bridge-to-practice program is a long-term commitment, especially in the public interest realm, and is a program that alumni like and that local employers in some cases have come to expect. (The latter finding could become a possible downside to these programs; to the extent that public interest organizations come to expect recent graduates to come along with funding, their inclination to hire new graduates in salaried positions may diminish.) There was some consensus that the fellowships function effectively as apprenticeships and serve as an effective leg-up for graduates pursuing public interest careers.

No Consensus on Implementing Effective Report-Back Procedures

3. The extent to which schools instituted some kind of required reporting back from the fellows varied greatly, from none, to any combination of monitoring including requirements to check in with the CSO via telephone, meet with a counselor over the course of the fellowship, submit a final written report, and complete a survey or evaluation at the end of the fellowship. Some schools also implemented procedures to get feedback from the employers. Some schools, for instance, require periodic timesheets signed by the host supervisor. The perceived usefulness of the graduate report-back process, either for the school in terms of providing a program evaluation or in providing guidance for the fellow, or for the fellows in terms of obtaining a long-term job, varied considerably. Some schools reported that the procedures in place in were adequate, while others felt their procedures were inadequate. Some schools found the report-back process useful at least for gathering the 9-month ERSS information for NALP. Several schools noted that they had decided to make the feedback process more formal or structured for their 2012 fellows.

Fellowship Programs Continue to Evolve

4. Schools noted some additional changes to their program, either already implemented in 2012 or that are expected or under consideration for 2013. One change, as noted earlier, is adding more structure to the process by which fellows report back to the CSO over the course of the fellowship. Other changes noted include trying to streamline administration of the program to include making all the awards at once; requiring bar passage in the state where the fellowship is located; making the fellowships shorter; and supplementing graduate-identified opportunities with some identified by the school.

Law School Funding Determined Year by Year

5. For the most part, programs at schools participating in this follow-up survey were funded entirely or mostly from the law school's operating budget, or more specifically in some cases the "Dean's discretionary fund" within the operating budget. In some cases, there were reports of small portions of fellowship budgets coming from sources other than the operating budget, generally from alumni gifts or other outside grants. A few schools have funded their program with two more evenly balanced buckets, one being filled from the operating budget and the other from either outside grants or an endowment/restricted funds. Funding the program mostly or entirely from outside gifts is not common. Typically, funds are allotted for one class only.

Student Funding Is Generally Non-Competitive

6. The process by which students/graduates obtain fellowship funding is largely non-competitive in the sense that schools typically fund as many fellowships as needed. This is not to say, however, that there are no strings attached, nor is funding all comers necessarily a given going forward. At a minimum, some kind of application, registration, or declaration of interest in obtaining funding is required. Some schools require bar passage. At some schools, the graduate must have a position in hand, at which point the graduate is able to come back for funding. Clearly such a position must be law-related and the graduate may need to commit to a minimum number of hours to obtain funding. Requiring a graduate to certify that he/she has undertaken a thorough job search and have exhausted all job search resources does not appear to be typical of these programs.

No Common Practice on Malpractice Insurance

7. An inquiry about malpractice insurance for fellows revealed that it is provided by the host employer. However, a number of schools either did not know or noted that the issue had not really come up, at least in part because the fellows were not yet admitted attorneys.

Some Schools Find Downsides

8. A number of schools participating in this follow-up survey do not see any downsides to the program, despite the commitment of monetary and staff resources. In some cases, the bridge-to-practice program is expected to continue indefinitely, as the value of the program, particularly for graduates pursuing a public interest career, is uniformly recognized by employers, alumni, state and local bar associations and the larger community.

Some schools, however, noted some downsides. One is a certain sense of entitlement on the part of some students and the need to manage expectations, including the level of pay that can be expected. Related to this, the fact that the program exists may lead at least some 3Ls to think that a job search is less important than it actually is. At least one school noted that securing a fellowship seemed to cause some students to stop looking for subsequent employment. Also noted is that in some instances, employers have come to expect the free help and in fact want the graduates for longer periods of time than the fellowship can provide. Also, as noted above, some employers seem to have begun to prefer the free labor of fellows to the burden of hiring paid staff members from among the recent graduates. In addition, difficulty in securing placements with government agencies was noted because of employment issues related to insurance, unions and the like, and a general lack of understanding of how to work with an independent contractor.

Finally, from the outside looking in, these programs are still vulnerable to the critique that they exist solely for the purpose of getting employment numbers up for the "as of February 15" count, rather than as true apprenticeships that bridge to more permanent career developments. This is particularly true when schools fail to track ultimate employment outcomes following the end of the fellowship periods.

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