This page was last updated on August 8, 2011.
Since April 2010, Law School Transparency has received substantial coverage from both legal and traditional media. Writing about a new organization is a difficult task, but we’ve welcomed the opportunity to tell our story. Given that not every article linking to our website also discusses how we started out, we think including a post about our origins would be useful for first-time readers.
Law School Transparency is a Tennessee non-profit that was originally founded by two Vanderbilt law students (both of whom has since graduated) in July 2009. However, the co-founders — Patrick Lynch (Class of 2010) and Kyle McEntee (Class of 2011) — began the initiative well before making the decision to incorporate.
On March 14th, 2008, at Vanderbilt University Law School’s Admitted Students Day, Vanderbilt took an important step towards improving transparency by releasing a list of where, and with whom, 196 of the 223 Class of 2007 graduates were employed. The list was well-received by accepted students, which at the time included Kyle. Kyle and another prospective student took Vanderbilt’s list and added public data to create a spreadsheet, which they then published on various online discussion boards. Some prospectives chose to attend Vanderbilt at least partially because of the list, including Kyle. Once Kyle began law school, he and Patrick began discussing the benefits of the list and the possibility of creating a new standard across all law schools. Motivated by Vanderbilt’s more comprehensive disclosure of job outcomes, the two began encouraging prospective students to contact other schools and ask for the same information.
However, individual prospectives on their own were unsuccessful at obtaining this information from schools. Seeing this, Patrick and Kyle began discussing other ways to cause schools to share the employment data they already collected. Meanwhile, Vanderbilt continued to release their own employment lists, which meant that Vanderbilt’s Class of 2012 and 2013 received similar consumer information.
In the summer of 2009, Patrick and Kyle incorporated LST. This was the critical turning point in their efforts to increase law school transparency. It was apparent that law schools would be difficult to sway towards more disclosure, while also clear that law schools failing to meet a reasonable request for employment data would be the best way to achieve system-wide reform.
Patrick and Kyle researched the underlying reasons for why schools weren’t already releasing the data. LST would then derive its own standard, with Vanderbilt’s list as a base, and justify the new standard in an academic paper. After spending 8 months working on a white paper, Kyle and Patrick, through LST, finally began the campaign to drum up support for more law school transparency.
The white paper outlines and explains all of the available employment data and information. It is unique in that it took a position that was quite different than many of the most vocal critics of legal education at the time. In the end, the paper concludes that, even if prospectives possessed and understood all of the available information, they cannot make informed decisions except in rare circumstances. This critical exploration has become the basis for undercutting the criticism that “prospectives should have known better.” Patrick and Kyle’s research showed that they should not have.
Rather than focusing the blame on the law schools for this problem, LST’s research found fault with the current employment reporting standards (primarily ABA Standard 509, the annual ABA Questionnaire, and the U.S. News Survey). As designed, the standards were not enabling (and still do not enable) prospectives to answer meaningful questions about post-graduation outcomes. LST articulated this problem, crafted a solution that cured at least some of the current standards’ deficiencies, and then began exploring how to implement this standard through a number of avenues.
The first strategy was to send an initial request to the law schools. On July 12, 2010, all ABA-approved law schools received a request to comply with LST’s standard. Schools were originally reluctant to even respond to the request, let alone commit voluntarily. Only one law school committed (and later backed out) to reporting Class of 2010 data under the LST Standard, while a few others said they would think about it. The request garnered wide media coverage on the central issues being addressed by LST. Following the initial request, LST issued a report, finalized the Guidelines for complying with the LST Standard, and then issued a second request on November 15, 2010. Predictably, no school committed to the LST Standard and the ABA Section of Legal Education would be forced to act.
It is important to reiterate that LST’s initiatives have never been based on the frustration that recent graduates and current students have expressed due to the retraction of the legal hiring market. Both of LST’s co-founders (and current Directors) are happy with their decisions to attend Vanderbilt, and often hold up Vanderbilt as an example in making the case for reform. Regardless of the economic climate, all prospective students (not just Vanderbilt’s applicants) should have better information when deciding whether to invest in a law degree. LST’s policy proposal are based on the simple notion that schools need to be disclose employment data to fulfill their obligations to fairly and adequately inform prospective students about the nature of the legal profession and opportunities within it.
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