We’ve received excellent feedback over the last month. One aspect not covered in our paper, but discussed by our readers, is how we plan to handle deferred graduates. A recent NALP report indicates that the deferral phenomenon is widespread, affecting graduates at all sorts of schools across the United States.
In a comment on this site, we touched on our treatment of graduates that have not started as of our February 15 reporting date. We responded to a commenter’s worry that employer information released by one school, Vanderbilt, did not match up with a particular law firm’s website as of a particular date. As confirmed by a later commenter – we are currently trying to verify this independently – this is because the firm deferred the graduate to fall 2010. Our response illustrates the decision we made to count deferred graduates as employed graduates in congruence with NALP’s policy for 2009 graduates. We tackle the separate issue of whether we should indicate when a firm deferred a graduate in a later post. Here, we explain the decision to count them as employed when they may never begin working.
As mentioned in our comment, “it’s important to point out that any list will necessarily be a frozen point in time chosen with full knowledge that a standardized list cannot account for every graduate’s personal narrative.” In other words, things inevitably change and every graduate’s event horizon looks different. Our goal is to standardize data in a way that enables prospective students to meaningfully answer important job questions, while minimizing compliance costs for schools and respecting graduates’ privacy.
Our standard includes only past outcomes, rather than some index to predict future outcomes. While the past is not necessarily indicative of the future, examining the outcomes of recent graduating classes should give prospectives some idea of what to expect, barring any major changes to the entry-level legal market. Even where major changes do disrupt predictions, prospectives can hypothesize about market effect to enhance their predictions. Predicting outcomes is a core part of a prospective’s cost-benefit analysis in determining her debt load.
If we count deferred graduates as employed graduates, we shift the focus from what a graduate achieved on their own to what graduates with one identical credential achieved in the past. This assumes – broadly – that deferrals had more to do with firm choice, evolving firm needs, and individual performance rather than school attended. We lose some nuance by doing this. For example, the student who achieved her outcome because she knew the right person or chose a particularly effective writing sample may give credit to a school where credit is not due. But hiring need predictions would punish schools for graduates’ (arguably reasonable or unreasonable) reliance on their offers. Counting deferred graduates as unemployed looks more like luck with a regional bias; this makes for questionable policy.
In the end, our standard looks to the past to allow prospectives to look to the future with more clarity. This will provide people the chance to take this data and predict future outcomes in as many ways as people can dream. With respect to deferrals, counting these graduates as employed removes some burden from the schools. We don’t think schools should be blamed for how firms predicted their hiring needs. After all, the predictive value does not lie in the actual outcomes as of some later date. The value lies in how firms collectively thought about the students from different law schools whiling deciding to hire given certain circumstances. Including deferred graduates in this measurement gets closer to that collective mindset.
Like all of our policies, this is up for debate. We encourage you to comment here or email us questions and concerns so that we can further evolve both the policy and the arguments in support of the policy.