Potential Regulatory Reforms on the Horizon

I was excited to read ABA President Steve Zack’s comments in last week’s Law.com article from The National Law Journal’s Karen Sloan discussing the ABA’s renewed attention to law schools’ disclosure of employment data. The ABA Young Lawyers Division’s (YLD) “Truth in Law School Education” initiative might require law schools to provide accepted students with “cost and employment statistics” in a letter to their accepted students. This initiative, like the efforts of the ABA Questionnaire Committee and ABA Standard 509 Subcommittee, demonstrates that the ABA is willing to take steps to better help inform and protect prospective law students. (We plan to explain more of what we know about all three actions in an upcoming post.) Most of these efforts remain in the planning stages, however, and changes seem unlikely to materialize until 2011.

Mr. Zack’s statements were exciting because they signaled to me the spread of the sort of discussion LST has been working to develop regarding the nature of the employment data reporting problem and the steps necessary to resolve it. While LST is working towards a solution on multiple fronts, including encouraging schools to comply with our Standard, the furtherance of a discourse of transparency serves to advance our cause.

I found Mr. Zack’s comments heartening because they showed his recognition of the more nuanced aspects of this conversation. When it comes to prospective students, he said that “there’s a total lack of awareness” about earning potential and career options. He suggested that law schools have an incentive to present their employment data in the best possible light to attract applicants. (ABA Standard 509 is the reporting baseline that the ABA’s Standard 509 Subcommittee aims to fix.)

While YLD chair David Wolfe said he “want[s] people to go to law school with their eyes open” when it comes to “employment and cost information,” he and Mr. Zack appreciate the present reality that disclosing the information the ABA already collects in acceptance letters would fail to address the underlying issue that prospectives have an incomplete picture of law school job prospects. Contributing to this problem, Mr. Zack “think[s] some of the numbers are cooked. To play the U.S. News & World Report game, law schools are creating jobs for graduates so they can say they are employed when they really aren’t.”

As we have acknowledged from the beginning (see the LST White Paper at 9-45), it is difficult, under current reporting conditions, for prospective students to make informed law school choices. This difficulty may be part of the reason why many prospective students don’t do as much as they could to talk to law schools about post-graduation outcomes. Motivating prospectives’ participation is a necessary component of our mission, which is why I think it is so important that major ABA players are joining this discussion and recognizing some of its key conceptual features. LST’s primary, concrete efforts are happening in the short term, but in working towards broad, long-term success, we hope many people, including the main stakeholders, will continue to engage in this discourse.

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