Last year, The Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law in Dallas, Texas initiated a new program it’s calling “Test Drive”, in which it pays firms to hire their students. This effort falls under the same “get employers to take a second look” category as boosting students’ grades and holding campus interviews early–only it’s gone one step further.
On the plus side, the novel financial incentive has been called a proactive approach in tough economic times. (All agree it will, at the very least, draw attention to SMU’s student body.) On the negative side, the promotion was tagged “a shameless attempt to game the US News [and World Report] Rankings.
In the school’s program pitch, it proudly mentions that, in 2009, over 97% of their graduating class were employed nine months after graduation and that, for 2010, the school was essentially ensuring that their students would have “equally strong employment”. To this end, they allowed firms to evaluate their students, “no strings attached”, for one month. SMU will even consider funding the student for a second month, if all goes well.
According to Above the Law ‘s Elie Mystal, this means that “for one, maybe two months, Dedman’s 3L’s are $3,500 cheaper than 3L’s from somewhere else.” Mystal also,raised the issues that companies don’t have work for new associates, and that $3,500 is petty cash in the cash flow of a mid-to-large sized law firm.
“You want to give SMU points for putting some money behind their students,” notes Mystal. “But wouldn’t the student body be at least as well-served if the law school just gave everybody $3,500?”
The ABA Journal posted the news that other schools—Duke and the University of Texas at Austin, for instance—offer stipends for students to take unpaid public interest internships. (Additionally, 10 law schools in the last 2 years have changed grades to make them more lenient–and more competitive.)
The Wall Street Journal Law Blog conducted an interview with SMU dean, John Attanasio (pictured here), who mentioned that, before the program was launched, he and SMU’s Career Services Office put together an arrangement for their 2L’s. “[W]e’ll pay up to $500 a week for 7 weeks provided the employer pays at least that much…” Attanasio said. “The money will go into a student’s pocket in the form of tuition reimbursement from the law school the following year.”
The program was introduced in March, and their efforts resulted in 65 “but for” jobs… But for the program, these opportunities would not have existed. They’ve also opened doors in companies which have never before had clerkships.
“Test Drive” for 3L’s partly came about as a result of the 2L program.
With “Test Drive”, the school pays the firm, and the firm in turn pays the graduate for one month. This is so the “employer doesn’t have to form an employment relationship with them.” As of May 2010, there had already been six bites—three of them definite offers of employment. (Incidentally, there is no connection between the monies involved in Test Drive and the annual increase in tuition, which the dean claims has stayed “relatively moderate” at 4.5% each year.) To learn more, go to: http://bit.ly/e39gwk and