As of September 10, 2010, LST's initial response period - during which we asked schools to commit to disclosing more employment information under a new standard - has closed. We wish to thank all the law school representatives who took the time to consider our initial request. In order to succeed, this initiative must be an ongoing collaboration between current students, employers, law school administrators, graduates, faculty, and prospective law students. We have been working steadily throughout the response period to formulate LST’s next steps based on this collaboration. This report summarizes the results of LST's initial request to 199 ABA-approved and provisionally approved law schools.
Of the 199 law schools we asked to commit to our new standard, 11 (5.5%) responded before the close of our 60-day response period. We will follow up with the other 188 law schools in the next month. For now, the respondents were:
American University Washington College of Law
Ave Maria School of Law (granted extension until Thursday, September 16th)
Creighton University School of Law
Northwestern University School of Law
Santa Clara University Law School
University of Colorado Law School
University of Florida Levin College of Law
University of Michigan Law School
University of Tennessee College of Law
Vanderbilt University Law School
William Mitchell College of Law
General Support for Reform
What administrators are saying:
We share your commitment to transparency and accuracy in how placement data is recorded and reported, and we appreciate the Law School Transparency Project’s encouragement of more discussion of this issue among law schools, law students, and the legal profession.
You have, indeed, identified a very real problem: the lack of reliable data for present and prospective students who want a clearer picture of a law school’s placement record.
Of the respondents, nearly all expressed support for providing accurate information to prospective law students. Two schools stated that they believe the current level of information they provide to prospectives or admitted students is adequate. We commend these schools for taking a public stance on an important issue. They have helped us move into the next phase of our initiative, where we try to help our readers look more closely at the current level of information. We will soon have a second report that goes into more detail.
Three schools have told us that they are waiting to make a final decision about full compliance with LST's standard. These schools are American, Michigan, and Vanderbilt. Ave Maria will make its decision by Thursday, September 16. The other eight schools declined our initial request to commit, citing various concerns with the LST standard. These concerns fall into two primary groups:
1) Compliance costs for often overworked career services staff.
2) The need to protect the privacy of both graduates and employers, particularly regarding salaries.
While the sample size of these responses is too small to make broad conclusions, we think the schools’ concerns provide strong insight into why such reform is, and always has been, a collaborative effort. We explore the primary reasons below.
What administrators are saying:
. . . if it comes down to meeting demands for assistance to students in their job searches or data collection, the latter must give way.
Many of the schools who responded expressed that a lack of resources is one reason they are unable to commit to a new standard. Schools already collect and report information on job outcomes (a laborious task, especially for large classes) to the ABA, NALP, and U.S. News. Schools also provide additional information on their website and in recruiting materials that they distribute directly to prospective students.
As we highlighted in our white paper, the compliance cost argument merits attention. While complying with our standard would not significantly increase costs because most of what we ask for is already collected each year by the law schools, the fact remains that many career services offices are already under pressure from both administrators and students to help students navigate through an increasingly competitive job market. And while many critics find fault with the level of assistance provided by their career services staff, such criticisms ignore the difficulty of adapting to a rapidly changing hiring market and tend to deemphasize the importance of taking personal initiative.
Although collecting, reporting, and publishing such information is crucial for informing prospective law students about past job outcomes and for helping them determine what level of debt to assume, schools must balance these needs against the needs of current students and recent graduates. It is indisputable that data management efforts place significant time and cost constraints on schools, especially on schools that have not allocated enough funds to career services. Schools must make a value judgment as to whether the funds and staff they dedicate to data management are sufficient to fulfill their responsibility to provide prospective students with basic consumer information.
When we first began drafting our paper on how ABA-approved law schools report employment information, we recognized that compliance costs could be a sticking point. But given its prominence in the responses we received, it is clear that we need to do a better job at showing just how problematic the employment information can be. That is, we need to demonstrate more clearly why the current information does not fulfill schools’ responsibility to prospective students in order to cause schools to feel compelled to invest in changing their data management.
To this end, LST has decided to release new features that highlight some of the reasons why current reporting practices are inadequate. One feature allows you to see what percentage of each graduating class is represented by each school's salary figures, which you can then compare with the salary figures published on law school websites and promotional materials. Many schools represent median salaries as being representative of the entire class, but in reality only a fraction of graduates may have reported salaries in a given year. Schools vary widely in how successful they are at garnering responses from graduates, and we think it will benefit our readers to focus on the variance in reporting rates.
We hope that presenting information in this manner will encourage our readers to contact the schools directly, whether you are an alumni concerned about your alma mater's reputation or a prospective student trying to determine why a school represents the salaries of a few top performers as their median. In the meantime, we encourage law school administrators to contact us if you have concerns about how LST presents your school's data.
What administrators are saying:
. . . given the nature of our student body and the types of positions they accept, we are concerned that providing individual information, even without names, will allow individuals to be easily identified. Providing salary information for those students may cause a chilling effect for future students who do not want their salaries made public.
. . . disclosure [of personally-negotiated salary data] is made with the understanding that individual salary data will be kept in strict confidence and only reported in the aggregate. A change in this expectation would likely have a chilling effect on the rate of reporting and thereby diminish the amount of available data.
The second major criticism is that the new standard violates privacy norms, which could have a chilling effect on the number of graduates who choose to report information to their schools. One school also stated that reporting individual salaries would have a chilling effect on employer-school relationships, explaining that many salaries are now negotiated privately and that those employers would be less likely to hire graduates if the starting salaries were made public.
It is first worth reemphasizing that the LST standard does not match up the name of each employer with a starting salary. While we have recognized the potential that some employers would prefer to be anonymous (i.e. left off of the Job List), our general assumption is that many employers would prefer a standard where they receive visibility for hiring new graduates. After all, employers do not typically (or ever) prohibit new hires from publicly identifying their new employer on websites like Martindale, LinkedIn, or Facebook. Many employers also list employees on their websites, which further diminishes the validity of the privacy argument.
The salary issue is trickier. We separate the employer name and salary components into two separate lists to decrease the likelihood that a reader can deduce a relationship. Under our standard, this cannot always be prevented. We are currently considering a guideline modification that can remedy this situation. Although the standard’s components will not change, we purposely left the guidelines flexible to give career services offices the chance to offer their expertise.
Still, expected salary is an extremely important consideration due to the high cost of attending law school in the 21st century. There is a strong tendency among existing tools to focus on the hiring practices of the largest or most well-known private law firms. This tendency overemphasizes a small portion of legal employers, which makes it more likely that a prospective law student will head off to law school without a sound understanding of the actual hiring market. NALP's widely reported salary distribution chart shows how the market is bimodal, but very few law schools portray salary information in a way that illustrates this phenomenon. This is problematic.
We believe that LST and law schools can work together to improve consumer information without chilling response rates. The NALP starting salary distribution chart is an important reminder that taking on enormous debt may not be a prudent decision. It would be a shame to chill NALP’s ability to do these studies, given their importance in describing broad trends in the hiring market.
For starters, permission to use self-reported data does not need to be in blanket-form. We suggest asking graduates if they will permit salary data to be released in the form we ask, while continuing to ask them permission for the reporting it as a part of an aggregate figure. Additionally, we expect and account for the fact that some individuals will refuse to disclose information. As we stated in our guidelines, a school can still be fully compliant with the LST standard even if it cannot collect information on every graduate. Our goal is simply to make the gaps visible by asking each school to describe the salaries and jobs they manage to collect each year. Where a school feels a need to explain a lower-than-normal response rate on the part of their graduates, LST will include summaries of the school's efforts.
There may be other instances where privacy concerns trump the information we seek, but such concerns do not diminish the importance of at least asking graduates to report the information. And it is still not too late to do for the Class of 2010. The ABA, NALP, and U.S. News standards each ask for figures as of February 15, and LST's standard is in step with the rest.
Without knowing the starting salaries of a legitimate majority of a given class, no prospective can reasonably estimate the risks involved or understand what options they might have as they begin their legal careers. Some schools (but not many) are already capturing this information. We hope our readers will take a good look at the information currently being collected and help us in our efforts to bring about reform.
The Other Schools
It is not clear what reasons the other 188 law schools have for choosing not to respond to our initial request, but we will be contacting each of them over the next month to follow up. We were pleased to learn that law school administrators were communicating extensively with each other during the response period, so we know that many of them have formulated some sort of opinion. The goal is to bring those opinions out into the open so that we can discuss the merits of our new reporting standard.
It may be that some schools did engage in an internal debate about the new standard but were afraid to express their concerns on the record before seeing whether other schools weighed in. Others may have been too busy during the initial response period to give our request the time and consideration needed to reach a decision. And at least a few schools underwent changes in administrative staff during the response period, so it's possible that our request may have simply been lost in the shuffle. Because LST's goal is to engage in a public discourse with the leaders of every ABA-approved and provisionally approved law school, we are in the process of developing a second request.
In the meantime, we encourage you to check out the new features in Law School Transparency’s Data Clearinghouse. The features explain the employment information schools reported for the Class of 2008, the most recent year for which data is available from U.S. News. We will continually add information with the hope that it facilitates dialogue and encourages more schools to come out in the open about their concerns, as well as to see whether they are willing to collaborate to bring about meaningful reform.