(Reuters) - As dozens of law firms in the U.S. shorten or suspend summer associate programs in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, law students, some of whom rely on the pay from those ten weeks to fund the rest of their year, are scrambling for cash and work experience - and schools are trying to fill that gap.
Law schools including Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law and Georgetown Law recently told Reuters that they’re planning to fund more student jobs this summer than in 2019 because of the economic impact of the pandemic.
Law students told Reuters that cuts in law firms’ summer programs and widespread economic shutdowns leave them with few options for work or money: take out more loans, ask family for cash, or try to get funding or a job from their schools.
Meanwhile, many law schools are facing financial strain themselves as it remains unclear whether they’ll be able to bring students back to campus en masse this autumn.
Northwestern and UCLA have in previous years paid students to work summer legal aid jobs, representatives of those schools said. But this year there is a “much greater demand of students seeking that kind of employment because they’re not able to get a job that they want on the private side,” said Karin Wang, the executive director of UCLA’s David J. Epstein Program in Public Interest Law.
Northwestern this year will fund not only legal aid and nonprofit summer gigs, but also some students working in the private sector, because the school’s goal was “to provide funding for students working without pay without regard to the nature of the organization they were working for,” said Dean Kimberly Yuracko in an email to Reuters. Northwestern is funding 30 more student summer positions this year than last, she said.
Georgetown has “guaranteed an internal summer position opportunity to all students who needed one,” with jobs such as working at one of its legal clinics or with faculty, said spokeswoman Tanya Weinberg in an email.
More than 45 law firms have since mid-March announced they would shorten, suspend or cancel their summer associate programs due to the pandemic. Many firms are also cutting student pay for the summer, often as part of larger efforts to reduce costs, including cutting attorney pay and furloughing staff.
Wang said that students working shorter summers at law firms have asked about UCLA’s public interest fellowship program as a way to earn back some of the money they’ve lost, telling her they’re “down $20,000.”
But most students interested in the program want to do the work because they’re interested in helping meet the expected surge in legal aid need due to the pandemic, she said.