Job Searches, Law Schools, Public Interest

The Secret to ‘100% Employed at Graduation’: Duke’s Bridge to Practice

When the U.S. News rankings came out this year, Duke Law School had fallen out of the top ten. But one thing that hadn’t fallen was its Graduates Employed At Graduation statistic. As Elie noted (with skepticism), Duke reported that 100% of its 2008 graduates were employed.

Elie wondered how that was possible given the economic climate in 2008. Though the climate in 2009 was even worse, Duke maintained its perfect score. However, we’re told that Duke will likely not have a 100% in this box for its class of 2010.

As Duke Law News reported, Duke worked hard to ensure its graduates had jobs. While it didn’t go the SMU route of paying employers to “test drive” its graduates, it does now provide stipends to some of its unemployed graduates to allow them to work for a couple months at no cost to employers. Using SMU’s car metaphor, the law school pays for the gas while Dukies and prospective employers take a little spin. Duke calls it “The Bridge to Practice” program.

It started in 2008 — employing the nine graduates who would have otherwise ruined that nice round 100%. The numbers of participants have increased since then, as the economy has worsened.

We interviewed a couple of them about the experience. The escalating numbers and Bridgers’ stories, including how much Duke pays, after the jump.

The program had nine participants in 2008 and 15 in 2009. The number will likely double this year. A spokesperson told us:

The number will probably be around 30 this year, though things are still in flux. Students continue to receive full-time offers, and plans are changing. We won’t know how it all works out until fall. We did not have 100 percent employment at graduation, although we nearly did. We are optimistic that in the months to come we’ll get there. Everyone is working very hard to ensure that every graduate who wants a job finds one — and that the position matches the graduate’s goals and meaningfully advances his or her career. Dean Levi has made it clear to the entire Duke Law community, faculty and alumni included, that this is a top priority.

We talked to two past BtP participants from the class of 2008 and 2009. It’s not a program to funnel students into Biglaw — it’s being used instead by students who want to go into legal services or government work.

Kyle Pousson

Kyle Pousson, Duke ’08, says Bridge to Practice was a “huge blessing.” He had interned for the Durham District Attorney’s Office during his 2L summer and loved it, but when he graduated, there were no jobs available. Duke’s deciding to foot the bill for his employment allowed him to work as an unpaid intern there from May through October, and when a full-time job finally opened up, he snagged it. He’s now been an ADA there for almost two years, prosecuting misdemeanor and felony traffic cases, as well as drug cases from the sheriff’s office. He can’t remember what Duke paid him per month, but says, “It was enough to pay rent, eat and survive, but it wasn’t a full-time salary.”

A more skeptical Dukie who emailed us about the program said:

From the anecdotes I’ve heard, it doesn’t sound like they do a good job matching the graduate with a place that is likely to keep them on after the stipend ends, as in at least two cases the program did not result in an offer of employment.

I hope the law school is not including these temporary placements in their employment statistics, but from the 100% figures the Career Center publishes for both at graduation and 9 months later, it seems like they must be.

We talked to a 2009 graduate who didn’t get an offer from her Bridge to Practice employer, but said the experience helped her land another job. Jessica Shulruff, Duke ’09, knew after a 2L summer associate experience that she didn’t want to work for a law firm. She was interested in immigration law but was having a hard time lining up a job in public interest. BtP is willing to make the calls for student to set up internships. Shulruff found the organization she wanted to work for and then Duke Career Services called them up and sold her to them. Duke gave her a two-month $3000/month BtP grant to work at the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, in Miami where she’s from, allowing her to live with her parents.

“I really liked FIAC and wanted to stay there, but they couldn’t hire me. They were firing,” she told me. “Obviously, Duke benefits by the numbers. But it benefited me too.”

She spent a month unemployed, then got another $1000 grant to work for the public defender’s office. But then a job offer came through from Catholic Charity Legal Services, based in part on her previous work and networking while at the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center. “It’s a small community of public interest in Miami. I was able to meet the right people. But that’s probably not the only reason — I went to Duke and have been doing public interest work forever,” she said. “I’m sitting in my office and I’m employed, doing exactly what I wanted to do. The four months in the middle without a job were pretty terrible, though. It was a little frustrating that even though I wasn’t being paid much and was job searching, I was being counted as employed.”

Obviously, Duke want its graduates to be successful and have jobs, and Bridge to Practice is helping them do that. It’s also nice for the school and its ranking that gets to claim higher employment stats.

100% employment: Meeting a lofty goal [Duke Law News]

Earlier: SMU Will Pay You To Hire Their Graduates

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