Do Big Law Firms Pay For Bar Prep?
You’ve graduated after a successful law school career, and now have the big law firm position you’ve always wanted. Now, the only thing standing in your way is to pass the bar exam! Much like the rest of law school, bar review courses are expensive. You’ve heard firms sometimes help cover bar preparation services, but are not sure how true this is. So, generally, do big law firms pay for bar prep? And how do they do it?
Do Big Law Firms Pay For Bar Prep?
In 2008, the ABA Journal published an article based on a survey done by Above The Law. They found that most big firms, based on reader response, did pay for some sort of bar preparation.This was not some blip on the radar. In 2014, Above The Law published a compendium of perks big law firms have for first year associates. Now, both articles are dated, so we’ll go into some more depth on what you could encounter if you approach a big law firm for bar review resources.
One way big law firms pay for bar prep is a stipend, which firms allow first year associates to use for bar review. The great thing about a stipend is that it never needs to be paid back, unless you leave the firm soon after (see point #5). For example, some firms say if you leave within a year, you must pay the stipend back.
It is one of the perks for working for a large firm. Generally, you need to provide some sort of invoice to your firm, who will then pay for services on your behalf. The amount will vary from firm to firm (we have seen numbers from $1,000 to $15,000) and any additional funds would most likely come out of your pocket.
This is by far the best approach for associates. The funds never come out of your pocket, and you still get your bar review.
2. Graduation Bonus
Another way big law firms pay for bar prep is a graduation bonus, which is essentially a signing bonus (with amounts varying the same as above – we have heard anywhere from 0 to $15,000, with a wide variation among firms). These funds are given to first year associates free of any strings. Instead of splurging on new clothes or gadgets, many choose to apply these towards bar review. Now, this does require discipline. It may be difficult to take money freely given to you and use it for bar review. However, a good bar review course is an investment in your future. Your job could be in jeopardy if you fail the bar exam (but most big firms will give you a second chance). We recommend you buckle down and use that bonus to make sure your position is safe.
3. Salary Advance
A salary advance is also a common method for first year associates to pay for bar review. Here, a big law firm advances part of your salary so you can use it to pay for bar prep. There no are strings attached, since this is money they were planning on paying you in the future. In many cases (but not all) you will see smaller paychecks until the advance is paid off. So while the firm does not pay for your bar review directly, they are also not requiring you to pay a lump sum out of pocket. Rather, you can spread the expense over multiple future paychecks.
4. Paid Time Off
Finally, some big law firms will pay their associates to study for the bar exam. So while they might not be paying for bar prep directly, they are giving you time to really buckle down and make sure you pass the bar exam while earning a pay check.
What exactly do big firms pay for?
Big firms will pay for all or part of the following:
- bar review courses (some firms pay for specific courses; others let associates decide which courses to take)
- travel expenses
- fingerprinting expenses and other expenses directly related to bar prep
- exam fees
What downside is there to letting a firm pay for bar prep?
If a big law firm pays for your bar prep, they might require you to work for a certain period of time before leaving the firm. If you leave before that time is up, you most likely will have to pay back their outlay on a pro-rated basis. Often, this restriction is only for the first year, but it is up to individual firms to designate how long you have to work there. Keep this in mind, especially if you do not foresee yourself staying at a big law firm for long.
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