I mentioned last week that there was some good news about the sequel to the University of Miami Law School Foreclosure Fellowship program. (See U Miami Law Foreclosure Fellowships 2009-2010 Final Report.) We placed eleven recent law graduates with a variety of organizations providing legal assistance to homeowners facing foreclosures. We helped a lot of people, and we also helped some of our graduates find jobs. The program died for lack of funding, but I'm glad to report that it has spawned a bigger, and I hope better, successor in the UM Law Legal Corps Fellowship Program.
Dean Patricia White has announced that she is, in effect, going to clone the Foreclosure Fellows program and expand it beyond fighting foreclosures to encompass a wide range of pro bono activities, and not just in Florida. The law school will pay students who pass a state bar after graduation a stipend of $2,500 per month for up to six months after graduation to do pro bono work. The plan — although I gather things are still a bit fluid — is to run a massively larger program than my eleven graduates, with the goal to reach perhaps as many as 100 new lawyers, or even more (the press release quoted below speaks of “more than 200 potential placements” but one can have more opportunities than takers).
As I understand it, details are still being worked out — including what students will have to do to qualify (although the press release suggests all graduates who pass a bar will be “eligible” it also speaks of those “qualified,” neatly leaving open the issue of whether it will take more than passing a bar to be qualified for a Fellowship), whether we can find a way to provide Fellows with affordable health insurance, the extent to which the law school will take on the responsibility of finding placements for the graduates, and the legal implications of each of these decisions for tax, malpractice, and other types of liability. I'm also a little unclear about how the out-of-state component will work. On the one hand, I think it's great to open up the program to out-of-state bar takers, who would then do pro bono work in the state where they plan to stay. On the other hand, it may be quite hard to arrange for the out-of-staters to participate in the planned “rigorous biweekly professional development sessions” either where they are located or remotely. Not to mention getting them CLE credit. But these are details, and good problems to have as they are the sign of an ambitious program taking off.
What I liked best about Dean's White's presentation of the idea to the faculty at a recent meeting is that she emphasized that her objective was to make the Fellowships both meaningful and prestigious — to match strong graduates with placements where their participation would result in good works; that her aim is to make the Legal Corps something that our graduates will brag about being a part of. That, I think, is a critical goal.
If this sort of thing takes off, I wonder if US legal education will end up with a de facto equivalent to a medical residency, or the UK barrister's pupilage and solicitor's articles. There are pluses (it can be very good training) and minuses (more time before the graduate starts earning a real salary) to these semi-apprenticeship models, but it's something to think about. Arguably, we've had something like that already with judicial clerkships (although they pay better) but we limited them to a small number of students.
CORAL GABLES, FL (October 14, 2010) — The University of Miami School of Law announces the establishment of Legal Corps, an ambitious postgraduate fellowship program which will place recent law graduates in public agencies, public interest organizations, and judicial chambers in Florida and throughout the country.
All UM Law graduates beginning with the class of December 2009 who have been admitted to a state bar are eligible for the six-month fellowships. Once placed, Legal Corps Fellows will receive monthly stipends of $2,500. Fellows will be required to participate in rigorous biweekly professional development sessions presented by leading lawyers. These training sessions will provide the Fellows with close to 2 years of Continuing Legal Education credit.
In announcing the program, UM Law Dean Patricia D. White said, “We believe that Legal Corps is the first serious attempt by a law school to contribute in a significant way to both the enormous unmet need for legal services and the harsh economic realities faced by recent law school graduates. We take seriously our continuing responsibility to our graduates and our responsibility as members of the legal profession.
“This program is conceived as a way to provide help to the understaffed and overburdened public interest organizations, governmental agencies, and courts whose funding has not kept pace with the workload of these challenging times and to provide training, experience, and opportunity to our graduates.” Dean White went on to say: “A unique aspect of our program is the six-month duration, which provides enough time for a newly licensed lawyer both to learn important skills and to be able to do real and useful work. A $2,500 per month stipend is not large, but it is comparable to those given to postdoctoral fellows in other disciplines.
“The experience gained, the connections made, and the opportunity to use their skills to make a difference to those in need will be invaluable. I hope that other schools will follow our lead and that, together, we can begin to focus on what is important.”
Although it remains to be seen how many UM Law graduates will participate in Legal Corps, Dean White said that the school will attempt to accommodate all those who are qualified. Scores of employers from South Florida to California have agreed to participate in the program, with more than 200 potential placements spanning a wide variety of legal areas already available for Legal Corps Fellows.
“At a time when the public sector is hurting because of budget cuts and law firms are not hiring at the rate they used to, Legal Corps provides a new way of giving recent graduates the opportunity to gain valuable experience while at the same time providing much needed assistance to those entities in the public sector with a critical need for legal resources,” said U.S. District Judge Adalberto Jordan. Florida Supreme Court Justice R. Fred Lewis agreed that the program provides a “unique opportunity for service. It captures both the advancement of the interests of new lawyers and provides assistance to organizations in need of legal talent.”
Other leaders in the Florida legal community were equally supportive and enthusiastic.
“This is a very creative program. It gives law graduates the opportunity to serve in the public sector and gain valuable legal experience which can later be used, if so desired, in the private sector,” said Cesar Alvarez, executive chairman of the international law firm Greenberg Traurig, P.A. “I think that one of the favorable consequences of this program is that some of the participating individuals, who originally did not consider working in the public sector, will, when exposed to it, decide to pursue full-time careers in it.”
Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said the program will instill responsible lawyering in the graduates.
“Opportunities where attorneys have the chance to really help individuals on a personal level are invaluable and the kind of experiences that can shape the career choices of young attorneys for the rest of their lives,” Fernandez Rundle said.
Chief U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno said the program “accomplishes what we in the legal profession should have been doing all along and provides what resembles an apprenticeship for UM Law graduates.”
Although national in scope, Legal Corps will be administered from the law school’s offices at the Chesterfield Smith Center for Equal Justice in downtown Miami. It is a fitting location given Chesterfield Smith’s dedication to help those in need during his legendary legal career and the proximity to the organizations where many of the Fellows will work.
Applications for Legal Corps will be available on November 1, 2010 in the Career Development Office and online (www.law.miami.edu/cdo).