SMU's Paying Would-Be Employers To Take Their Law School Grads On a "Test Drive"

A Friend of Unfair Park asks that we take a long look at this item posted a few days ago to the legal-eagle blog Above the Law: "SMU Will Pay You To Hire Their Graduates." You read that right: The SMU Dedman School of Law has started a program called Test Drive, which is just what it sounds like: The university will pay a firm $3,500 to test drive one of its recent graduates for one month. And, says the school's pitch to prospective employers, it "will consider funding an additional month of employment if you and the graduate intend to continue the relationship toward full-time employment."

Elie Mystal at Above the Law is awfully skeptical of SMU's intentions: "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 the school's dean, John Attanasio, told The Wall Street Journal yesterday that, hey, what's wrong with getting grads gigs? He insists it has nothing to do with U.S. News & World Report's law school rankings, which are based, in part, on graduate employment stats. It's called being "proactive," and it has thus far resulted in 65 grads landing jobs they might not otherwise have gotten were it not for the incentive.

Test Drive was created to empower graduates in the class of 2010 to seek the jobs they want. Test drive envisions that a graduate will use Test Drive to encourage an employer to give the graduate a chance to prove himself or herself.

Test Drive was also designed to incentivize employers who might otherwise be on the fence. Employers don't need to commit up front, and we'll even let them petition for a second month of Test Drive if they'd like, but then we attach some strings. Then we ask an employer to convey a good-faith belief that the opportunity will lead to full-time employment.

Which begs myriad questions, like: Why would anyone go to UNT's new downtown law school -- scheduled to open in the fall of 2012 -- when SMU's more than willing to pay for a head start in the legal profession? And: How, at a time when SMU can't even afford to keep its prestigious press publishing at a lousy $400,000 annually, is the cash-strapped university coming up with hundreds of thousands to make sure its grads get jobs? And: Shouldn't they be doing this at journalism school?

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