Law School Grads

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Law schools are pumping out more graduates than can find good jobs and who are loaded down with student-loan debt. Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law has a partial solution. It plans to create an “Alumni Law Group” to give jobs to 30 law school graduates. ASU Law School Dean Doug Sylvester will discuss the program.

Ted Simons: Law schools are graduating at increasing number of students who are finding it increasingly hard to find jobs. ASU Sandra Day O'Connor college of law is addressing the situation with plans to create an alumni law group which would give jobs, law school graduates. The program will cost $ million a year, but could pay for itself within five years. ASU law school dean Doug Sylvester is here to discuss the program. Thank you so much for joining us. All right. The alumni law group. What are we talking about?

Doug Sylvester: It's the world's first nonprofit teaching law firm that's affiliated with a law school. So let me try and break that down. Think about a teaching hospital. Everybody graduates from a medical school spends time at a teaching hospital. Under the tutelage of a full-time surgeon, but doing real cases. We're trying to bring that model to law school. Where you graduate from ASU, and if you would like to you can spend up to three years working under the tutelage of experienced supervising attorneys representing clients.

Ted Simons: This is -- This is different than what an internship might somebody.

Doug Sylvester: Absolutely.

Ted Simons: How so?

Doug Sylvester: In a bunch of different ways. One is, you can be fired. That changes things. It's different than giving someone a failing grade. So one answer is, it's real life clients and they're paying. And that's what changes things. It's like having, again, a patient coming in not as a fake individual that you need to figure out their disease, but they're coming in and they have a problem, they need you as a doctor to solve it. Clients walk in the door, they need help, we have experienced attorneys, 10-plus years of experience, supervising young associates and teaching them here's how you represent that client.

Ted Simons: We're talking jobs here to new graduates.

Doug Sylvester: When it fully builds out that's the plan.

Ted Simons: What kind of jobs?

Doug Sylvester: Young associates -- At the top we'll have full-time attorneys that are experienced, so there will be about five to seven of those, then young associates, brand-new graduates to law school, 10 a year, doing work as attorneys.

Ted Simons: Noncourtroom experience?

Doug Sylvester: Some courtroom, some representing small businesses. The idea is to really try and identify a middle class that needs legal service and can't afford it. To provide a rate that brings in small business, for example, and they want to incorporate We can do incorporations on a nonprofit basis. Turns out when you take the profit out of law, you can actually provide a lot of services at a reduced rate and still get a ton of training exercises to young attorneys. Part of what's happening in the market we think is a breakdown in a very traditional model. Where you graduate from law school, get a job at a law firm and an experienced attorney mentors you, brings along even beyond what the clients are looking for. We're not seeing that. We're trying to replace that model by having them work in this law firm and get that training in a quick, deep, and broad way.

Ted Simons: Why are you not seeing that past models?

Doug Sylvester: The economy has been tough. Your prior guest was talking about employment. Legal employment was not one of the ones he says that's driving the market. Legal employment nationwide is a problem. ASU and U of A and Phoenix have done extremely welcome paired to the national economy, but we're still seeing a real focus on clients on what exactly is every attorney who's working on this matter doing, and if we have an attorney who is not yet experienced I won't pay for that person. So it becomes a bottom line problem for firms, so they're not hiring as many. And when they do, they're only giving them some times the kinds of works they can bill out.

Ted Simons: I than hear critics saying that suggests there are too many kids graduating from law school. Valid argument?

Doug Sylvester: I don't think so. Nationwide, I think it is… responsible law schools like ASU, and again, U of A, we've actually reduced the size of our class to respond to the employment market. We don't admit anybody we don't think we can get a job, and we've done a heck of a lot better than the national averages. So great law schools are focused on getting jobs, but the answer is, even the ones getting jobs are not getting the jobs they got five years ago, they're not getting the training they got, or the mentoring.

Ted Simons: Dean of the law school, how difficult is it to gauge the job market? You got to look three, four, five years ahead.

Doug Sylvester: Absolutely. And I think most law schools, that's probably what happens. Over the last five years, no one saw this downturn coming. One of the things this firm law group will allow us to do, we'll have a better handle of what's happening in the market. We'll see where clients are, where businesses are, what skills our graduates need.

Ted Simons: This can be argued it isn't fair to private firms that might be going after the same business you guys are now getting into.

Doug Sylvester: That's an argument. I don't think it's right. I think what we're looking for are individuals at the moment don't have any legal representation because they can't afford a lawyer in town. So they're looking for somebody to come in and handle their legal matters at a very early stage of their business or a very small personal matter. The value of that is they then learn that lawyers -- They learn lawyers can be very helpful. That lawyers are not always, and this is a reputation, looking to make the most profit, they learn lawyers are a value add, they're going to hire other people.

Ted Simons: If someone says by doing this to help people get jobs out of law school, you could be taking jobs from the private market for folks out of law school, how would you respond?

Doug Sylvester: I don't think that's right. I think what we're doing is taking our graduates who would have jobs and saying, what we're trying to do is give a better experience for your first two years out so when you're three and four years out you're a better attorney than you will be under current conditions.

Ted Simons: This program costs $5 million but the idea would pay for it within five years? How would that work?

Doug Sylvester: Within absolutely full buildout, these are projections. At absolute full buildout with people and space, at the top end, if this was run like a traditional law firm, it would cost about $5 million a year. I don't think it's going to run at that level. This was our attempt to say if we run it the way anybody else would, that's what it would cost. We're going to be able to do it less expensively, so I don't think we need to make that much each year. To me this is a successful endeavor when what our lawyers are doing is not picking clients because they can afford to pay, they're picking clients who do pay because that's what makes it real, but because our associates haven't had that experience yet. An associate has not yet been in court we need a client who will get them in court. I don't care if they can pay, let's take that case.

Ted Simons: When does this program start?

Doug Sylvester: It should be up and running by January of --2014 .

Ted Simons: And fully implemented --

Doug Sylvester: within three years. We're looking to build 10, 10, and 10.

Ted Simons: By then will you have your law college built downtown?

Doug Sylvester: Yes, we'll be here in 2016.

Ted Simons: All right. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Doug Sylvester: thank you.

Doug Sylvester:Dean, ASU Law School;

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