No Job After Graduation? Brooklyn Law School Promises To Pay Students Back

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Karla Cabral has wanted to become a lawyer ever since she was a little girl. Inspired by her heroine Minerva Mirabal, a Dominican attorney who was murdered by dictator Rafael Trujillo in 1960 for daring to defy him, Cabral says she has always wanted to use the law to help those less powerful.

"I wanted to fight for justice. After middle school and high school and then in college, I thought maybe I would change my mind. But to this day, I feel like I'm doing exactly what I've always wanted to do," Cabral told Refinery29.

And this fall, the 23-year-old will be one step closer to that goal when she begins her second year at Brooklyn Law School. But Cabral knows that finding her dream job after graduation can be an uphill battle. Statistics compiled both by law schools themselves and the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that there are more law-school graduates than legal jobs.

Brooklyn Law School said it will begin refunding 15% of total tuition costs — close to $20,000, paid in one lump sum — to students who remain unemployed nine months after graduation.

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In fact, according to the Coalition of Concerned Colleagues, a group of law professors, more than two out of five 2011 law-school graduates did not obtain full-time stable work that required their degree after graduation.

Brooklyn Law School hopes to change that. On Monday, the school rolled out a new program that will refund students like Cabral 15% of their tuition if they are not able to find a job within nine months of graduation.

Called "Bridge to Success," the new program aims to ensure that hardworking students avoid financial insecurity after they hang up their caps and gowns. In a press release, Brooklyn Law School said it will begin refunding 15% of total tuition costs — close to $20,000, paid in one lump sum — to students who remain unemployed nine months after finishing school.

To prove that they have made a good-faith effort to find a job, students will have to take the bar exam (though they need not pass it) and work closely with the law school's career center.

For Cabral, the Bridge to Success is a safety net.

more than two out of five 2011 law school graduates did not obtain full-time stable work that required their degree after graduation.

Coalition of Concerned Colleagues

"Ever since day one, the career-services counselor has always had an open-door policy and told us what the [job] process is like and how it would work," Cabral said. "I can't say I'm totally freaked out, but now that we have the Bridge to Success program, I feel a lot less nervous."

Brooklyn Law School President Nicholas W. Allard said in a statement that the program "is designed to ease the pressure for some students to settle for any job to pay for living expenses and pay off loans.

"We are determined to provide the counseling and financial support needed, in some cases, to buy extra time, in order to land the job that fits a graduate’s talent and passion," Allard added.

But some law-student-advocacy groups see Bridge to Success as a band-aid on a more systemic wound.

Kyle McEntee is the executive director of Law School Transparency, a nonprofit research group that aims to "challenge law schools, state bar associations, and the American Bar Association to change business-as-usual." Although McEntee commended Brooklyn Law School's intentions, he told Refinery29 that the United States is facing "a broken legal-education system propped up by a broken student-loan system."

McEntee explains what he calls the "reverse Robin Hood phenomenon," in which the most able students at a law school are essentially subsidized by the least able students, who pay tuition but do not end up passing the bar. In McEntee's estimation, Bridge to Success is a standard Robin Hood phenomenon — students who get jobs do not get their tuition refunded, and therefore subsidize the unsuccessful outsets of their peers.

"Law schools refuse to acknowledge that, in reality, we don't want to mortgage our futures with non-dischargeable debt," McEntee said.

It runs counter to what we're told growing up, which is that student debt is good debt. But it's hard to believe that when you are faced with a $2,000 or $2,500 monthly loan payment.

Kyle McEntee, Law School Transparency
McEntee added that unlike past generations, millennials are more likely to fight against an exploitive student-loan system.

"It runs counter to what we're told growing up, which is that student debt is good debt. But it's hard to believe that when you are faced with a $2,000 or $2,500 monthly loan payment," he explained.

But until the student-loan system undergoes a massive overhaul, McEntee believes that law schools will continue to do what Brooklyn Law has done — establish temporary fixes to ensure that students keep enrolling, even without the promise of a job.
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