Coming Soon: Class of 2010 Employment Data

It is just about that time of year when prospective students should be (but in most instances aren’t) able to access important information about employment outcomes for the most recent graduating class.

This week is the earliest that a law school can provide employment information under the current reporting regime. On February 15th, the employment outcomes for the Class of 2010 will freeze in time: No matter what a graduate is doing before or after February 15th, the employment data reflect only what he or she was doing on that date (the “Status Date”).

The Status Date is roughly nine months after most law students graduate. The nine-month rate is rooted in the idea that nine months is long enough after both graduation and bar passage to measure the employability of a school’s graduates. NALP, the ABA, and U.S. News all collect employment information each year using the same Status Date. LST, in our effort to establish a new standard that minimizes compliance costs, also uses the same Status Date.

However, each organization uses a different reporting timeline. And unfortunately for the many thousands of prospective law students facing pressure to select a program, disclosure comes only after significant delays that make the selection process even more difficult. This post aims to shed some light on how slowly information trickles down from the schools to the consumer.

The Status Quo

The following table shows the reporting and publishing dates used by each organization, as well as the type of information published.

Organization Reporting Date Publishing Date Information Type
LST Late February 2011 March 2011 School-specific
NALP Late February 2011 June 2011 Aggregate Only
ABA October 31, 2011 Summer 2012 School-specific
U.S. News December 1, 2011 March 2012 School-specific
Individual Law Schools February 15, 2011 Discretionary School-specific

For our part, the schools that have agreed to provide us with employment data will do so at the end of this month, shortly after they provide similar data to NALP. Unfortunately, very few schools have committed to providing LST with Class of 2010 employment data. This is certainly not ideal, but it was expected. Exposing the failure to cooperate or even engage in discussion raises serious questions about what schools have to hide, particularly once people realize that schools possess the data we seek.

How Things Can Change

Putting pressure on law schools to disclose Class of 2010 employment information now, rather than later, is both important and appropriate. By the middle of March, just about every ABA-approved law school will have reported Class of 2010 employment data to NALP. The NALP data underlie the information schools eventually choose to publish in their promotional materials. Our reasonable suggestion is that schools stop withholding information from the people who really need it.

Why focus the discussion on the NALP data? For starters, schools do a great job with reporting employment data to NALP. For the Class of 2009, NALP-reporting schools knew 96.5% of all graduates’ employment statuses, and had specific outcome data for at least 98.9% of those graduates. The wealth of data schools report to NALP cannot be understated, nor can its importance for prospective students trying to learn about employment outcomes.

NALP provides intricate breakdowns (more here) to convey information about the overall entry-level market for recent law school graduates, but does not permit comparisons between schools. Thankfully, these charts rely solely on school-reported data, which means each school is capable of providing the same charts on an individual basis.

With substantial data at their disposal in February/March, schools therefore have a choice about whether to accelerate and improve their own disclosure policies. Schools could provide meaningful, up-to-date employment information to prospectives at that time, but most do not. Some of these schools might not want to invest resources into timely disclosure. Others just might not care about informing prospectives about employment opportunities at all.

Fortunately, in June, each participating school receives NALP’s school-specific chart for its graduating class of 2010. Sometimes schools share a bit of this information, e.g., Washington & Lee, but we have yet to see a school share its NALP report or even come close to its level of detail. (If you know of a school that is in the practice of sharing its NALP reports, please contact us.)

Even if a school chooses not to improve the quality of that information, e.g., through LST Standard compliance or providing NALP-like reports, schools can still choose to more promptly provide prospective students with information in the same form as prior years. Some schools still have yet to provide Class of 2009 employment information (example 1 [no employment statistics provided], example 2 [no employment statistics provided], example 3 [most recent: Class of 2006]), to the frustration of many applicants. And many schools will not post Class of 2010 employment information until after members of the Class of 2014 submit their deposits.

This time lag is indefensible, but hope is not lost. Some schools plan to lead the charge against this time lag. Washington & Lee indicates on its website that the Class of 2010 employment statistics will be available in March 2011. The school confirmed this plan via email:

Thank you for your email. As we say on the website, we plan to make the 2010 data available in March.

Likewise, Michigan has indicated to us its plan to release information in a timely fashion:

We do indeed plan to put our 2010 NALP data up as soon as possible.

Even if the information schools currently share is not the quality we would like to see, sharing it sooner rather than later at least will enable those prospectives to see the most up-to-date information for a school. While no prospective should rely on a single year of information in making their decision – the entry-level market is sure to differ three years later – the extra year is an important piece of the puzzle.

LST’s objective is to make more transparent consumer information available for prospective students. This can be achieved on a number of levels. More prompt disclosure at least shows prospectives which schools are serious about helping them make informed decisions, and which pay only lip service. More schools may come forward with the NALP data as it becomes more obvious that the game is up, but for the time being it will be up to prospectives to make their concerns heard.