There is  a pervasive feeling that even though most schools have complied with reporting requirements, some have nonetheless failed to tell the whole story. Caveats were undisclosed. Explanations were unprovided. In short, law schools too often failed to adhere to the heightened standard of conduct they expect of students. …
So what can law schools do to regain the public’s trust and provide prospective students with the most useful data?
The ABA mandates are a step in the right direction, but a framework that borrows components of the Education Department’s “gainful employment” standards would be more useful in contextualizing the outcome data on which many people rely. … [T]he purpose of the framework would not be to set minimum benchmarks, but to provide better information—something law schools should embrace without compulsion.
A gainful employment framework in legal education would contextualize employment and salary data by measuring the extent to which graduates are able to actually pay what is likely their largest debt. The fundamental question the data would seek to answer is, “Are graduates not only working but also able to pay their student loans?” Using the benchmark prompts above, this question would be answered from both macro and micro perspectives. The first prompt would provide a big-picture view of the extent to which graduates are able to pay their loans. The latter two prompts would provide individual-level measures of loan indebtedness. The relative nature of the data would render it less sensitive to differences that may be misleading. For example, median salary differences may be rendered less significant if graduates from schools with lower medians have lower relative indebtedness or pay their student loans at higher rates. Schools could provide short-term and long-term views by aggregating data over different timeframes. …
The so-called crisis of confidence in legal education is not about law school fraud; it is about misinformed expectations. It is about students believing the law degree guarantees lucrative employment—and law schools doing little to temper those unduly optimistic assumptions. Law schools have a duty to ensure that their students know upfront both the potential rewards and possible risks of undertaking legal education. Principles of ethics and integrity require such forthrightness. Gainful employment data would help prospective students make more informed choices regarding legal education, and in the process help law schools regain the public trust.
Two months ago, Aaron Taylor, a law professor at St. Louis University, published an irresponsible editorial in a prelaw magazine. In his article, Professor Taylor lamented the growing number of law school critics and flatly claimed that “Law school is still worth it.” His justifications were all either demonstrably false or incredibly misleading, much like the information many schools publish when recruiting new students. The editorial demonstrated one professor’s profound ability to bury his head in the sand. (In truth, there are signs that law school is not worth the price for many people.)
Professor Taylor said that “the facts belie the hype” when it comes to the national discussion over shady law school recruiting methods. His piece was designed to allay the fears of prospective law students. He actively encouraged them to attend law school, basing his argument on a handful of statistics, platitudes about the universal value of law degrees, and the privileged opportunity to debt-finance a chance at entering the legal profession. He wanted prospectives to know the time is right and the hype is wrong.
Part of Law School Transparency’s mission is to increase the amount and quality of consumer information so that those looking to invest in law school can make an informed decision. We take issue with unqualified–in both senses of the word–assertions that law school is worth it. Simply put, there is not enough information available to make a strong claim that “law school is still worth it.”
But it seems that Professor Taylor has finally begun to see things more clearly.
In his latest piece (excerpted above from The Lawyerist), he does an about-face and considers how we might devise a reporting standard that will indicate whether law school is worth it.
The suggestion is interesting and substantively getting somewhere. While the “gainful employment” term is strategically and politically problematic, the core of his basic proposal stems from prospective students’ need to have some idea of whether their decisions will significantly impair or improve their social and economic mobility. While Professor Taylor’s proposal is short on details, it is worth exploring further.
- Nat'l Jurist: Why Law School Is Still Worth It (October 11, 2011)
- TaxProf Blog: Taylor: Why Law Schools Should Report 'Gainful Employment' Data (December 23, 2011)
Professor Taylor has responded (to Professor Caron, TaxProf) that his two pieces are consistent:
The assertion that my “gainful employment” proposal is in conflict with my previous defense of legal education is erroneous. Legal education remains one of the best educational investments. A range of data supports that assertion. Does that mean it is the best investment for everyone? No. But better information and heightened due diligence by prospective students on the front end can minimize their chances of feeling duped as law students on the back end. Gainful employment data is one way law schools could provide better information regarding the best educational investment. There is no about-face. The two articles are complementary.