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Response to the National Law Journal/Wall Street Journal

Monday, July 2, 2012   (1 Comments)
Posted by: Shelley Broderick
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June 29, 2012

Dear Students, Alumni, Staff and Friends of the UDC David A. Clarke School of Law,

In the past week, the legal and popular press has focused intense scrutiny on employment statistics for recent law graduates.  The National Law Journal caused a splash with the headline: "ABA:  Only 55 percent of Law Grads Found Jobs as Full-Time Attorneys.”  The article described the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law (UDC-DCSL) as a law school with a low number of graduates from the Class of 2011 having obtained full-time, long-term jobs that require bar passage nine months after graduation. 

In a follow-up article, The Wall Street Journal interviewed several law school deans -- myself included -- who "cautioned against placing too much emphasis on jobs requiring a law degree.”  Unfortunately, the Wall Street Journal reporter who interviewed me for 30 minutes or more took only one thing from the conversation -- the notion that our school "caters to students seeking a law degree to get ahead in their careers but who don’t intend to practice law, including government workers.”  Thank you to the many students and alums who emailed me to the effect that "this does not sound like you!”  I should think not! 

            I am writing to provide you with the points I actually made on this topic, including a closer look at UDC-DCSL’s 2011 employment picture and our new initiatives and progress in improving professional career outcomes for our students and alumni.

            First, I agree fully that prospective and current students, alumni, and the community at large are entitled to accurate information about law schools, including post-graduate employment.  The American Bar Association requires law schools to take a "snapshot” of the employment picture for the most recent graduating class nine months after graduation.  The release of that information was the foundation for the recent spate of news articles.  In my view, a nine month  snapshot is of limited value in helping potential law students make informed judgments about the worth of a particular law school and whether he or she will benefit from a legal education earned at that school.  The full picture is far more complex and nuanced.   

Let’s take a look at UDC-DCSL for example.  Our curriculum is focused on training students to be practice-ready when they graduate.  We invest our tuition, appropriations, grants and gifts into the most extensive program of hands-on clinical legal education required by any law school.  In order to graduate, students must earn 14 credits working 700 hours in our eight legal clinics serving the legal needs of poor and vulnerable DC residents. We are delighted to report that our clinic program was ranked 10th in the nation this year by US News & World Report. 

              UDC-DCSL also requires 40 hours of community service in the first year.  We provide a $4,000 stipend for every first-year and many second-year students who work in a full-time summer public interest, government or judicial placement.  We are spending more than $250,000 this summer to support their work.  We also offer both four and ten-credit legal internships in the nation’s capital.  Our graduates get excellent value for their modest investment.  They graduate ready to practice law, and they do practice law.

Let’s look at the numbers.  In 2011, 78 students graduated from UDC-DCSL.  We were able to gather employment information from 69.  Nine of the 69 were not seeking employment at the nine month mark as a result of personal choices like relocation with a spouse or expecting a child.  Of the 60 remaining graduates, 47 were employed, 16 in long-term, full-time bar required jobs, and 12 in long-term, full-time JD preferred jobs - - like the federal government - - which is a big employer here in Washington, DC.  The rest are working in various career related positions, including an executive director of an environmental justice group, a communications director, a legal researcher, and similar positions. 

Other graduates reported short-term employment, such as with legal employment agencies.  These jobs are part of the "business or industry category” in the ABA report.  Three of our graduates were enrolled in LLM programs. It is true, some of our students were not yet working in their dream jobs, but we regularly hear about the new jobs obtained by graduates after the nine month mark.  I am very pleased that almost 30%, or eighteen of the 60 grads we know of who were seeking employment, were employed in public interest, public service or public policy jobs in keeping with our mission.

            The point I was trying to make to The Wall Street Journal reporter was that many students in our new evening division are already employed in jobs, including federal government positions, where ultimately a JD is preferred but not required. They are attending law school to advance their careers, and their choice should not be devalued simply because the bar exam is not required.  In the federal government and many other employment sectors, the JD is usually highly beneficial in the hiring and promotion process.

            Some other points are worth considering.  First, law schools are required to collect data from graduates, but graduates are not required to report data to law schools, and many do not. 

It is also important to note that the data show that nationwide, the nine month law graduate employment rate is 85.6%, which is not bad given the current state of the economy, even if it marks an 18 year low and even if some are non-law jobs.  Presumably, a 12 month snapshot would show an increase in both overall employment and in employment more closely aligned to a graduate’s desired first job.  A 15 month snapshot would show additional improvement, and so on.  As the average graduate is in the mid-20’s age range, and is looking at 40 or more years in the legal workforce, some delay, though not optimal, will not tip the balance against pursuit of a legal education for most.

            As for UDC-DCSL, we understand that as the school has grown in size, we need to grow with it.  Our Director of Career and Professional Development, a seasoned public interest attorney, has done an exemplary job in single-handedly managing student counseling, on and off-campus programs, and employer outreach.  However, as the school has grown and the job market has become more challenging, we made increased staffing a high priority.  In February 2012, we added both a second full-time career services professional and a part-time administrative assistant.  Our new assistant director is a UDC-DCSL alumna from the Class of 1997, with extensive professional experience.  We are taking advantage of our alumna connection to its fullest extent to increase alumni engagement with our school.  We have also launched a judicial clerkship initiative that focuses on the metropolitan DC judiciary.  Already, five graduates from the Class of 2012 have obtained judicial clerkships.

At UDC-DCSL, we applaud the law school accountability movement but urge the intelligent legal educational consumer to consider more than one-size-fits-all statistics as they weigh the pros and cons of law school.  The law school landscape and legal market have dramatically changed over the past several years.  Candidates for admission should look even more closely at tuition rates and financial aid.  They should measure the cost of a school and its mission in relation to their employment goals and likelihood of their success in meeting those goals.  If a candidate wants a job in a large private law firm, he or she should determine the likelihood of graduating in the top 10 percent of a prestigious law school.  If so, paying tuition nearing $50,000 per year may well be worth the investment. 

On the other hand, many candidates are looking for more affordable options, especially those with curricula designed to prepare them for careers in their interest areas.  That is where schools like ours come in.  We are a small, public, urban land grant HBCU, with a laser focus on recruiting and graduating students who are from communities and backgrounds underrepresented at the bar and on training advocates for public interest and public service careers.  Our tuition is one of the lowest in the country:  under $10,000 for DC residents (students may qualify to become residents after one year) and under $20,000 for non-DC residents.  Our financial aid is extremely generous despite our modest resources.  Looking beyond the statistics, applicants may find that we are a perfect fit if they are interested in a high-quality, low-cost law school that will train them to hit the ground running in the legal profession. 





Shelley Broderick, Dean




Tayrn Gude says...
Posted Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Bravo, Dean Broderick. Your thoughtful and clarifying explanation makes sense - to the sensible. I can personally attest to the fact that there is no telling what a reporter will write after an interview; accuracy and context seem not to be absolute requirements when articles are published. Your points regarding part-time students are not without merit - most of us already have flourishing careers and do not plan to transition to entry-level attorney jobs that require a J.D. That's our choice, and you are right in that our path should not be devalued. While I am not convinced that 700 hours of clinical work actually results in practice-ready graduates, I do know the clinics provide outstanding opportunities to research and write. Those opportunities take on even greater significance when the research and written products (motions, petitions, etc) are used in client representation; I cannot imagine a more practical and effective application of a legal education exists.

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