It was only a matter of time.

SMU Dedman School of Law is now officially willing to pay law firms to hire its graduates. The school is calling its new program “Test Drive,” which adds a nice layer of hilarity: Toyota wouldn’t pay me to test drive a Camry.

Even the logo for this program screams sadness:

Let’s look at the blast email from SMU career services…

This program is a shameless attempt to game the U.S. News rankings. SMU essentially admits as much in the opening paragraph of its Test Drive pitch:

We are pleased to report that over 97% of our graduates in the SMU Dedman School of Law Class of 2009 were employed nine months after graduation, and we want to support the Class of 2010 toward equally strong employment. To this goal, we initiated Test Drive, which allows employers to evaluate the legal knowledge, skills, work ethic and professionalism of our recent December 2009 or May 2010 graduates on a “no strings attached” basis.

I like how SMU wants to keep its employment numbers up — but with no strings attached. This letter is essentially saying “hire our kids so we can report strong employment numbers, we don’t really care what happens to them after that.”

But give SMU this much credit, at least they are putting some money behind the program:

If your firm has an identified need for a new associate, we encourage you to Test Drive one of our graduates for a month at our expense. The law school will fund $3,500 for the graduate’s first month of employment at your firm and will consider funding an additional month of employment if you and the graduate intend to continue the relationship toward full-time employment. On the other hand, if you or the graduate determines after one month not to pursue long-term employment, there is no further obligation.

That’s right, SMU is willing to pay for its U.S. News gaming.

I particularly love the language here. “There is no further obligation”? Oh, well thank you very much, SMU. I’m sure employers are happy to know that they are under no obligation to hire SMU grads.

The thing is, Dedman graduates are and probably should be happy that their school is doing something. Their employment prospects are so screwed that this program probably gives them a little bit of hope. For one (maybe two) month(s), Dedman 3Ls are $3,500 cheaper than 3Ls from anywhere else.

But is it a false hope? At the end of the day, $3,500 is petty cash in the operations of a major or even mid-sized law firm. Firms aren’t hiring recent graduates because they don’t need them. There’s not enough work for them. Recent graduates don’t magically start generating business after a month or so on the job. It’s just hard to see how this program actually changes the hiring needs of firms. That’s the real problem facing SMU 3Ls — firms don’t have any work for them.

Really, the only firms that will even consider this Test Drive will be firms who were going to hire a new graduate anyway. So whether or not this program works at all depends on your answer to this equation: Dedman Law grad + $3,500 > UT Law grad?

You want to give SMU points for putting some money behind their students. But wouldn’t the student body be at least as well-served if the law school just gave everybody $3,500? For each Dedman student who gets a one-month shot at a job, there will be more that either don’t have a job or have to take a relatively low-paying job. An extra $3,500 could help all of the students, instead of just a theoretical few.

But law school administrations don’t really think that way. If you were able to parlay your SMU degree into a job — even a crappy job — as far as SMU is concerned, you are a successful U.S. News statistic! The school is only willing to put an extra $3,500 into the pot if it might help their U.S. News rank, not to just generally help the student body.

Of course, if it works nobody will care why the school decided to go in this direction.

What do you guys think? Is this a good idea? Take our reader poll below.

UPDATE: SMU Law’s dean, John Attanasio, defended the “Test Drive” program in an interview with Ashby Jones of the WSJ Law Blog.


comments sponsored by

73 comments (hidden for your protection) Show all comments