LST’s New Information Source for Law Students and Attorneys

Law School Transparency (LST), the widely recognized advocacy organization improving the legal profession through public education about law schools, officially announced its new podcast, “I Am The Law,” a show about the role legal professionals play in the legal ecosystem.

“I Am The Law” features interviews with attorneys in various fields. Each episode details one practitioner’s day-to-day tasks as well the unique challenges associated with his or her specialization. The show interviews traditional lawyers, such as public defenders and corporate litigators, as well as non-traditional lawyers.

Through “I Am The Law,” LST offers a completely new information source for prospective law students, current law students, and practicing attorneys. Many enter the legal profession without an adequate understanding of the daily practice of law. “I Am The Law” serves to eliminate that information void. Rather than relying on Law & Order or The Good Wife to learn about the legal profession, the audience will learn from revealing interviews that go well beyond conventional generalities.

Listeners can find “I Am The Law” on iTunes, Stitcher, and many podcasting apps. Listeners can also find episodes on LSTRadio.com. Four full-length episodes are available now, and a new episode will be released every Monday.

In concert with the LST Score Reports, a consumer’s guide to deciding whether and where to attend law school that serves tens of thousands of prospective law students every year, “I Am The Law” will help students to pursue careers based on facts rather than fictions.

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Law School Transparency’s mission is to make entry to the legal profession more transparent, affordable, and fair. For more information or an interview, contact Kyle McEntee.

New Board Member: Mike Spivey

We are pleased to announce a new member of LST’s Board of Directors, Mike Spivey. Mike is a partner at the Spivey Consulting Group, a firm that helps prospective students navigate law school admissions, helps law students find meaningful employment opportunities, and consults for law schools on admissions, career services, and marketing operations. Previously, he worked as an administrator at Vanderbilt Law, Washington University School of Law, and Colorado Law. Mike also taught Business Ethics at the University of Alabama and was a Blackburn Fellow for Leadership in Ethics for the State of Alabama.

Mike has been a long time supporter of LST’s mission, even before LST incorporated. While associate director of admissions at Vanderbilt, Mike and LST co-founder Patrick Lynch discussed rampant, false information about Vanderbilt’s job outcomes that had spread across a popular prospective student message board. In March 2008, Vanderbilt’s admissions office and career services office jointly provided prospective students a list of where all graduates from the class of 2007 worked. The list was the impetus for Patrick and LST’s other co-founder, Kyle McEntee, to ask why other law schools were not so open and honest.

Mike is known throughout legal education as a champion of informed decision-making and progress. Mike worked alongside Dean Kent Syverud at Vanderbilt and Washington University in St. Louis to add a personal touch to attracting students and to convincing employers that those students would add real value to the legal sector. He also worked closely with Dean Phil Weiser at Colorado Law School to support students across a variety of initiatives. Along the same lines, Mike has was featured in the Chronicle of Higher Education for going the extra mile in getting to know applicants through the admissions process. Today, he continues that approach through his consulting practice and, now, as key member of the LST team.

New Law School Jobs Data Indicate Flat Entry-Level Legal Market

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – LST has made class of 2013 job outcome data available for 200 ABA-approved law schools on LSTScoreReports.com. The LST Score Reports help students make smarter application and enrollment choices using admissions, employment, and cost information.

LST’s analysis of class of 2013 data collected by the American Bar Association sheds considerable light on how difficult the job market remains for law school graduates. These graduates fared 0.8% better than last year’s graduates on the key lawyer jobs statistic: 57.0% of 2013 graduates were employed in full-time, long-term legal jobs. Exclude jobs funded by the law schools from this figure and it is 55.3%—just a 0.2% improvement from the class of 2012.

A devastating 26.8% were either underemployed (short-term or part-time or non-professional jobs) or not employed (unemployed or pursuing an additional degree). Unemployment is up to 13.7% from 13.2%, while underemployment is down to 11.4% from 12.5%.

Full-time, Long-Term Legal Jobs:

The national full-time, long-term legal rate is 57.0%.

  • By definition these jobs:
    • require bar passage or are judicial clerkships; and
    • require 35+ hours per week and have an expected duration of at least one year.
  • At 64 law schools (31.8%), 50% of graduates or less had these legal jobs.
    • 33 schools (16.4%) had 40% or less;
    • 13 schools (6.5%) had 33% or less.
  • 103 schools (51.2%) exceeded the national rate of 57.0%.
    • 51 schools (25.4%) had 66% or more;
    • 21 schools (10.4%) had 75% or more;
    • 5 schools (2.5%) had 90% or more.

The national full-time, long-term legal rate, excluding jobs funded by law schools, is 55.3%.

  • The richest schools were able to hire their struggling graduates full time and long term; only 18 schools (9.0%) paid 5.0% or more of their graduates for long-term, full-time jobs that required bar passage.
    • 50% of these schools (9) were in the top 20 on the full-time, long-term rate without the benefit of the school-funded jobs; including school-funded jobs in the rate puts 67% of those schools (12) in the top 20.
    • Excluding school-funded jobs from the full-time, long-term legal rate caused all 5 schools over 90% to drop below that threshold.
  • Although the absolute number of full-time, long-term legal jobs funded by schools was relatively small (775, 2.0% of all employed graduates), there were 50% more of these jobs this year compared to last year.

Underemployed or Not Employed:

  • The national rate is 26.8%.
  • A graduate counts as underemployed when he or she in a non-professional job or employed in a short-term or part-time job.
  • A graduate counts as not employed when he or she is unemployed or pursuing an additional advanced degree.
  • 192 schools (95.5%) reported a rate of 10% or more.
    • 163 schools (81.1%) had 20% or more;
    • 129 schools (64.2%) had 25% or more;
    • 74 schools (36.8%) had 33% or more;
    • 36 schools (17.9%) had 40% or more;
    • 14 schools (7.0%) had 50% or more.
  • 30 schools (14.9%) had more underemployed and non-employed graduates than graduates employed in long-term, full-time legal jobs.
    • Last year, 24 schools qualified.
    • If we compare all long-term, full-time professional jobs (legal or not), 16 schools (8.0%) qualify.

Large Firms (at least 101 attorneys):

  • 12.9% of graduates were employed at large firms in full-time, long-term positions
    • Graduates seek these jobs partly because they tend to pay the highest salaries.
    • Note that not all of these jobs are associate positions. An unknown number are paralegals, administrators, and staff attorneys.
    • This number is up 0.7%, from 12.2% last year. These jobs are particularly unevenly distributed across law schools. Graduates from 25 schools account for over 60% of these jobs; graduates from 10 schools account for 37% of these jobs.
  • At only 63 schools (31.3%) were 10% or more graduates in these jobs.
    • 28 schools (13.9%) had 20% or more;
    • 16 schools (8.0%) had 33% or more;
    • 9 schools (4.5%) had 50% or more;
    • 2 schools (1.0%) had 60% or more.

Although the class of 2013 is the largest ever at 46,776 graduates, it was only 0.8% larger than the class of 2012. The raw number of long-term, full-time legal jobs increased slightly by 574 jobs to 26,653. If we exclude positions funded by law schools, the raw number increased by just 319 jobs to 25,878. Overall, class of 2013 job statistics indicate a flat legal job market.

The future remains grim for prospective law students. Law school enrollment was nearly 40,000 in the most recent year. The current entry-level legal market cannot support such large classes.

In addition to recent job outcome data, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects only 19,650 new law jobs per year between 2012 and 2022, a number that is 10% less than an estimate two years ago that projected 21,880 new jobs per year between 2010 and 2020. That ten-year prediction was 9% less than an estimate a few years prior that projected 24,040 new lawyer jobs per year between 2008 and 2018.

These new jobs include all legal jobs, whether full-time or part-time, permanent or temporary. The BLS labor economists base occupation predictions on econometric models, together with continuous monitoring of the workplace. The macroeconomic model predictions aim to reflect how many new entrants the economy will support in each occupation. These estimates account for economic growth, structural change, retirement, and a host of other variables.

Labor market weaknesses amplify the troubling cost of obtaining a legal education in the United States. Students entering this fall (who graduate in 2017) will likely fare better on the job market. But even if every law school graduate obtained a job, the sky-high cost of legal education means that expected salaries for law school graduates threaten economic hardship. For many, it will be impossible to fulfill their student loan obligations without relying on the generosity of federal hardship programs, which Congress may greatly scale back in the near future.

The message from Law School Transparency to prospective law students remains the same: if you choose to go to law school, carefully assess the costs and the benefits. Focus on where graduates work (geographically) because 2 in 3 employed graduates work in the state in which their law school is located. Use our resources to study law school job outcomes, engage in financial planning, and negotiate the best deal you can with the law schools that can meet your career goals.

For the vast majority of prospective law students who have not received a sizable scholarship, it makes sense to wait for prices to drop further. If you decide to attend, it is essential to negotiate scholarship terms, not just the scholarship amount. You should seek to reduce or eliminate GPA or class rank stipulations, as well as to ensure that your scholarship will grow in proportion to law school tuition increases.

+ School profiles: http://www.LSTScoreReports.com/schools/.
+ Comparison charts: http://www.LSTScoreReports.com/national/.

 

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Established in 2009, Law School Transparency is a nonprofit legal education policy and watchdog organization. Our mission is to make entry to the legal profession more transparent, affordable, and fair.

LST Revamps Law School Decision Tool

With law school application deadlines looming, a tough legal job market, and high education costs, prospective students need useful information to make smart choices about whether or where to attend law school.

Today, prospective law students receive essential help with making informed decisions with the launch of Law School Transparency‘s fully customizable Score Reports (http://www.LSTScoreReports.com).

Attending law school is a life-changing decision that deserves fair and clear presentation of relevant information. The Score Reports organize admissions, employment, and cost data to show the big picture and the fine detail. The Score Reports help prospective law students find the schools that can meet their career goals and evaluate the projected time and financial commitment.

We have added the following features:

  • Financial Planning Worksheets. These help students plan their budgets and see how much debt will be owed when the first loan payment is due, as well as how much that payment will be.
  • Custom Scores and Reports. Students can choose what matters most to them. From large firm and public service placement to LSAT and GPA statistics, students can create reports and change them to see how schools stack up. To compare apples to apples, students can also create custom scores based on the types of jobs they value.
  • Compare up to 4 law schools at once on our head-to-head page.
  • Enhanced school reports that provide mountains of admissions, employment, and cost data. Elements include salary information, job trends, enrollment trends, and a projected debt table.
  • Scholarship negotiation help. Because almost all law schools use a high tuition, high discount model, students must negotiate scholarship amounts and scholarship terms (GPA/class rank requirements, escalation with tuition increases).

Note that the LST Score Reports are not rankings. Indeed, we believe national rankings and law schools do not make any sense. Law schools function in local markets; few schools have a national reach. 2 in 3 employed graduates work in the state where their school is located.

Law School Transparency is a Georgia nonprofit legal education policy and watchdog organization. Our mission is to make entry to the legal profession more transparent, affordable, and fair. We’re best known for advocating for increased employment data transparency. The LST Score Reports are the product of our advocacy successes.

Should [Faculty] Compensation Be Transparent?

Professor Krawiec‘s interest in structural transparency has much more to do with a law school faculty’s culture than whether schools are using their money effectively. Still, her thoughts offer an interesting take on how varying levels of transparency affect the object of transparency. With any regime, whether regarding employment data or compensation, it’s critical to consider the consequences, positive and negative.

I also wanted to highlight an interesting comment responding to Professor Krawiec’s Faculty Lounge post:

In an ideal world, we would trust the deans to do their job right, and we would keep compensation info private. But remember what the theory of second best tells us. So long as the world is not ideal, and we cannot trust the deans, opacity of compensation is not necessarily a good idea. As the Texas blowout shows, some deans simply cannot be trusted. Larry Sager gave himself a $500K bonus without informing his own boss! He also set up a vast system of payouts to his friends, most of whom had no outside offers from higher-ranked schools and were not at any risk of leaving. Can you make sure this massive self-dealing is not happening elsewhere? If not, periodic sunlight might well be the best disinfectant.

Whether or not this allegation proves to be true, these are the concerns law schools now face. Insofar that self-dealing occurs to the detriment of students and taxpayers, inquiries into faculty compensation will be sure to make headlines in 2012.

Great Suggestions from Charles Cooper

Over at NonTradLaw.net, Charles Cooper has made three suggestions for those of you interested in getting involved in our latest request for employment information.

What can you do to help?

Well, if you’re an applicant with an offer that you haven’t accepted yet, shoot an email over to the admissions office and ask that they either send you the data directly, or they send it to LST so you can see it on the LST web site. You have a valid right to know, since your entire future may depend on it. And if you get it, send it to LST.

If you’ve accepted an offer, send a similar email, but suggest that if the school doesn’t comply and hides this relevant information from you, you’ll rethink your decision to attend.

If you’re a student, march yourself to the dean’s office and ask that they comply. The school’s failure to comply will be embarrassing for the school, and will decrease the positive reputation of the school, directly affecting your job prospects.

And if you’re a law school graduate, write to your alma mater and state in no uncertain terms that the school should comply immediately so it is not added to the list of schools that are being deliberately deceptive (and thus adversely affecting your professional reputation), and let the school know that you will not consider donating a single cent in the future if the school drops the ball on this simple request.

Thanks to Charles for these important suggestions. To those of you who get involved, please let us know how your efforts go.

A Law School Fantasy: Slashing Costs and Improving Preparedness

[this post appears in the National Law Journal forum on legal education]

Dean Chemerinsky’s and Professor Jewel’s contributions both raise very important points about the challenges facing legal education reform. Personally, I’m in the camp of people who believe that the legal education model will change. However, it’s apparent to me that changes must come predominately from outside of schools and the ABA Section of Legal Education. Survival instincts may prohibit even well-respected, well-meaning faculty scholars from adequately assessing the scope of the problems with the current law school model. But the increasing interest from U.S. Senators should signal to the uninitiated that law schools cannot continue to operate in a bubble. Nor can this discussion continue if everyone ignores the crux of the problem: intolerably high costs and an unacceptable number of unprepared graduates.

What would internal reform even look like if the two core goals are slashing tuition and improving preparedness? Part of the reason internal reform may be difficult to imagine, as Dean Chemerinsky pointed out, is because law schools are governed by faculty, and because substantial changes to the legal education model will alter “what [faculty] have to teach and do.” That the Section of Legal Education is captured by similarly consumer-disoriented interests, despite overtures to the contrary, only aggravates the situation and observers. It bears repeating that the Standards Review Committee, Section of Legal Education, and Dean O’Brien in his posting do not once mention how important it is that the cost of obtaining a legal education drastically decline. Reducing costs cannot be the elephant in the room if this discussion is to carry any significance with the public.

Internal reform may also be difficult to imagine because increases in quality are typically tied at the hip to increases in costs. This attitude contributed to the current model and its explosive growth over at least the last 25 years. With little or no downward pressure on the cost of legal education, and a diversity of ideas about what it means to improve the student experience, law schools can introduce new features along with yearly tuition increases, knowing they will be rewarded for it in the U.S. News rankings.

On its face, the idea that costs can decrease while quality increases is fanciful. More to the point, there is substantial denial that there is a problem with the quality of education that law schools provide graduates. Such denial comes out in claims that the “law school crisis” is cyclical, not structural.

Like Dean Chemerinsky, I graduated (albeit this year) without being ready to practice law. Yet, not unlike many law school graduates, I still received a high quality education. This confirms Dean O’Brien’s thoughts on the current state of legal education:

Legal education itself has never been in better shape in terms of the preparation that we provide future lawyers. In recent years, our schools have responded to suggestions by the bar and have substantially upgraded legal writing programs and practical skills opportunities. The process currently in place ensures that graduating lawyers are well trained for a variety of roles.

There are two important disconnects here. First, how can I claim that I received a high quality education and also say that people are wrong to deny there’s a problem with the quality of education? Second, how can Professor Olivas claim that graduates are well trained for a variety of roles, despite the increasing reticence of clients to pay for junior associates? We can reconcile both sets of questions by examining how each claim uses a different metric to evaluate quality. The first claim in each set speaks to doing something well, but not necessarily producing graduates who are/feel ready to practice law.

This brings me back to the potential fantasy of reducing costs while improving quality. In our evolved-definition-of-quality world, we may find that the current pedagogy badly misses the mark. In this case, radical change may mean substantially changing the composition of legal educators, whose salaries and benefits make up a large chunk of law school operating costs. If faculty composition radically shifts to include more practitioners teaching as adjuncts in specific, practice-oriented classes, while tenured faculty must seek grants to continue their scholarly endeavors, we could see the costs of educating aspiring lawyers decline drastically.

Reimagining Legal Education

The National Law Journal is hosting a discussion of the state of law schools, with contributions from the current Chair of the ABA Section on Legal Education, John F. O’Brien, the President of AALS, Michael Olivas, Dean Erwin Chemerinski (UC-Irvine), Bill Henderson (Indiana), Lucille Jewel (John Marshall – Atlanta), and Brian Tamanaha (Washington University in St. Louis). Here is my initial post:

We founded Law School Transparency in 2009 with a pretty basic goal: to spotlight and reform the presentation of law school employment information. In no trivial sense, law schools and the ABA Section of Legal Education were not fulfilling their responsibilities. Law schools were failing to adequately inform their future students. The Section of Legal Education was failing to adequately protect consumers with its accreditation standards, which law schools were more than happy to hide behind as accepted practice.

To a large extent, although strides have been made within the Section of Legal Education to protect consumers, these failings persist. (In a later post, I will explain how.) They signal, along with the fact that there were such significant failures prior to the national attention, much greater problems with law school operations. Law schools are simply not consumer oriented.

With this in mind, we are ready to announce the next phase of Law School Transparency: attempting to reimagine legal education. This has three core parts.

  • Structural Transparency
  • Identifying Opportunities for Improvement
  • Unbreaking the Broken Model

Three common-sense goals color an undeniably difficult process. First, the cost of obtaining a legal education must be substantially reduced. Second, students must have the opportunity to make choices after graduation and must have economic mobility throughout their careers. Third, the education model must meet the needs of students, the legal profession, and clients.

Structural Transparency

This part focuses on understanding the cost structure of providing legal education in the United States. Reducing the cost of obtaining a law degree requires understanding the nuances of the law school model, where the money comes from, and where the money goes. Some of these facts may come from examining public documents like law schools’ Form 990s and recent reports on legal education, but additional transparency is needed. Law schools need to open their books, explain those books, and do so truthfully and in good faith.

Identifying Opportunities for Improvement

Once the facts are on the table, those who are interested in reducing the cost of legal education can identify opportunities for improving the law school model. This introduces a normative inquiry into what it means to provide value.

Like the Section of Legal Education Outcome Measures Committee, we believe that the focus must center on outcomes. Law school should add value in two related ways.

First, law schools should produce graduates who can do things they couldn’t do prior to law school. Learning outcomes must be scrutinized with due consideration to how well graduates serve employers and clients. It is one thing to teach something well, and another to teach something relevant. The report is a great start, though it will be important to generate the discussion among all stakeholders—something the committee admitted it had trouble sparking.

Second, law schools should produce graduates who successfully enter the workforce able to repay law school loans. Based on the report, this was not considered. The committee acknowledges that costs will likely rise after retooling the accreditation standards, but it does not demonstrate any concern for whether education is affordable. I am hopeful that participants in this forum will discuss how this crucial element could possibly have gone unaddressed.

Unbreaking the Broken Model

It’s important to synthesize old and new information about how law schools educate their students. Ultimately, the product of these efforts will help determine the most appropriate, substantive changes to the U.S. legal education model. There is very real pressure to do a better job for students and employers, both of whom can be viewed as consumers of legal education. In making these changes, it will be essential that access and quality are not sacrificed.

How best to achieve the goals outlined above will be a matter of important debate. But regardless of how we manage to eventually unbreak the law school model, it’s clear that change must come. Legal education reform requires a significant commitment by all stakeholders—not just those who currently spend time teaching—to consider why and how we need to reimagine legal education.

ABA President Zack: Law School Transparency Needed to Clarify Attorney Salary Misperceptions

The ABA’s media relations arm has released a YouTube video (full transcript below) in which the ABA President, Steve Zack, speaks about the need to get better information into the hands of prospective law students.

It’s great to see the President of the ABA weighing in on this issue again. Back in October, Mr. Zack emphasized the need for law schools to provide cost and employment information to applicants.

But this time around he focuses more on the causes of uninformed decisions. He rightfully identifies the disconnect between the legal market and what prospective law students believe about the economic realities for new lawyers. This disconnect often provides some foundation for the decision to attend law school.

Uninformed decisions (which, to be fair, do turn out just fine for some people) ultimately start with available information of all types. Opaque job information would be less troubling if applicants did not already think that lawyer starting salaries justified debt-financing their education at any cost. But this and other information perpetuate presumptions about the legal profession, and these presumptions are largely caused by how the market for law students has been conditioned.

Recently, I spoke with a college sophomore about her desire to go to law school. We discussed what she wanted out of a J.D., particularly the “lawyer salary.” The desire to make a good living is not bad on its face, and economic security can coincide with other motivations. But she has yet to think about what it would cost to attend the schools on her shortlist and she was shocked to learn that all lawyers don’t make a ton of money right after law school. Sure, this misperception is correctable with a little research, but these presumptions exist before applicants try to understand school-specific job prospects.

Market conditioning ultimately provides the greatest challenge to informed decisions, and reconditioning requires time for better graduate employment information to penetrate the market. As Mr. Zack points out, some misperceptions stem from popular culture and other stories of huge salaries, despite efforts from NALP, LST, and others to shed light on what salaries really look like for recent graduates. (To this point, the ABA has not collected recent graduate salary information from law schools because it does not currently consider it to be “basic consumer information.”) The attractive “lawyer” status, especially among many proud family members and friends, feeds optimism and indebtedness. Law schools understand that their applicants relish the rosey attitudes and figures that, while technically true, mislead the wide-eyed prospective lawyer because they do not paint the correct picture. This is what Mr. Zack is talking about when he says there is a need to clarify.

Mr. Zack also emphasizes that the cost of attendance should play an integral role in an applicant’s calculus. However, his examples miss the point. He calls for information about “hourly credit cost” and the “standard of living in [the schools’] given areas . . . over a three year period.” The ABA already collects and distributes this information, and all schools provide it on their websites. School projections might serve some function, but they generally do not have any knowledge of or control over rising tuition. Mandating projections would be a waste of time and money because it’s something applicants can already do within a reasonable degree of specificity.

Mentioning cost transparency is an easy public relations win for Mr. Zack, but it has no substance as presently conveyed. To be fair, he does cite these suggestions as examples for how schools can share “what the real cost of their legal education will be.” But the real problem isn’t with understanding how much the degree costs. The difficulty is trying to comprehend what $200,000 looks like over the life of repayment, including interest. Requiring that debt service schedules accompany every law school application and acceptance letter might help, though this would be information that is already available via an internet search.

What would be of more use is fair disclosure of scholarship requirements and statistics on how difficult the scholarship is to keep. This knowledge affects the expected value of the scholarship over three years, and with it the school’s affordability. In some of the most egregious cases, schools furnish a scholarship to a percentage of the class in excess of the amount that can possibly keep it. For example, imagine that keeping your scholarship is conditioned upon finishing your first year in the top 15%, and that 35% of the class received scholarships with the same condition. This situation may be made worse by the disproportionate number of scholarship recipients in your 1L section. It may also be complicated by when class rank is calculated: Is it before or after top students transfer to other programs?

It is important to be realistic about the effect of better information on the decisions made by prospective law students. Some of the effects will be difficult to measure, as intelligent use of better information will cause a number of prospectives to choose a different school rather than no school at all. These decisions will be based on a clearer understanding of how certain schools best meet certain career objectives, rather than U.S. News rankings.

But even without this more-efficient allocation of students to schools, general consumer protection principles apply. In no other area of consumer protection do we question whether new information will be completely understood or heeded. We only ask that more, quality information be disclosed.

Video Transcript

We always need new lawyers. The question is, do the people going to law school really understand what the future of the practice holds in store for them? What are the real economics of the practice? Everybody watches L.A. Law and Boston Legal, and they see the newspaper reports about these massive salaries paid at Wall Street Firms – $160,000 starting salaries. But the truth of the matter is that the mean salaries of lawyers around the country is $62,000. And before there is a commitment to take loans in excess of $100,000, you have to understand what the real economics of the practice of law might be for you as an individual. We’re asking law schools to better inform potential applicants as to what the real cost of their legal education will be. For example, what their hourly credit cost is, and what the standard of living in their given areas will cost over a three year period so they can evaluate for themselves whether it’s worth it for them and what their liability and risks are when they graduate.

Questionnaire Committee Hearing Recap

I had the great fortune of attending last week’s ABA Questionnaire Committee hearing in Florida. It’s tough to boil down seven hours of presentations and discussion about employment outcome transparency to a single, readable post. However, a few themes emerged that I think are worth highlighting. Additionally, some great ideas were tossed around at the end of the hearing that may have established a foundation for a new proposal.

Basic Themes

First, the committee members appear to understand the problem. Prospective law students have an extremely frustrating time determining what sorts of employment opportunities different schools give law school graduates, causing the prospectives difficulty in making informed decisions. As many of the speakers pointed out, this is a consumer protection issue in part because significant investments should be made on an informed basis.

One crucial aspect of the J.D. investment, which commenters throughout the day emphasized and reemphasized, is the opportunity to get a job that allows loan servicing 6 months after graduation. Nearly everyone in attendance–from career services deans to committee members to advocates for prospective and current law students–acknowledged that prospectives are generally uninformed about the nature of the entry-level job market. Beyond the financial consequences, this means students embark on a career they know little about.

Second, the committee members appear to understand the implications of ignoring the problem. As the gateway to the legal profession, schools are dangerously close to damaging the public’s view of the profession. The trust relationship between schools and their students is under pressure, and with it the trust relationship between schools and their prospective students.

As Indiana professor Bill Henderson exclaimed during his presentation, “We have a potential scandal on our hands.” He stressed that it’s only a matter of time before a lawsuit filed by disgruntled graduates gives the profession “a black eye,” even if the lawsuit can’t survive a motion to dismiss. Kimber Russell then shared with the committee that she has twice been approached to be the lead plaintiff in a class action suit. As such, it might be too late in some respects, but the risks escalate each year nothing is done.

Third, the committee members appear to be committed to helping to resolve these problems. It’s important to remember that ABA committee members serve on a voluntary basis; they have chosen to take time away from their jobs to be involved with the ABA because they have an interest in upholding the values of the profession. When they realize those values are being compromised, they will do what they can to restore them. I think everyone in attendance, including people advocating against increased transparency, was interested in maintaining maximum credibility for the profession. Fortunately, most attendees recognized that honest disclosure of graduate employment outcomes by schools is a crucial step in limiting the appearance of impropriety, while simultaneously obliging schools to fulfill their responsibilities to applicants as consumers, investors, and students.

I’ve qualified these three themes with “appear” because the commitee members didn’t give attendees any assurances that they will make the kinds of changes people called for at the hearing. It is one thing to pay lip service to the problem, its implications, and plausible solutions, but another to actually help solve the problem and stay the consequences. This committee is in its early stages. They are gathering facts about the issue and listening to interested parties’ concerns about whether, and how, to solve the problem. So far, the committee is headed in the right direction. The committee Chair, Dean Art Gaudio, sought significant input from both consumer organizations like LST and from the schools, which were well represented at this first hearing. Committee members were also attentive, engaged, and asking the right questions to distinguish the legitimate concerns from the illegitimate.

It’s worth reiterating that the Questionnaire Committee has very limited, though extremely important, jurisdiction. The committee gets to determine which questions to ask schools on the annual ABA questionnaire. The answers then become the source for the ABA employment information available in the Official Guide. Despite this limited purview, the conversation often extended beyond the committee’s regulatory authority and looked at what the ABA as a whole might be able to do. This discussion was useful because members from other ABA committees were in attendance, notably representatives from the Accreditation Committee and the Standards Review Committee. Moreover, the extended discussion demonstrated an air of excitement for solving an important problem that requires dedicated collaboration. All three committees can, and must, work together towards a common solution.

A foundation for a new proposal

Finally, perhaps the best and most productive part of the hearing happened at the end of the day. Participants discussed a real solution about how best to demonstrate some of the economic value of a J.D, ignoring a few outlier concerns raised throughout the day. (These outliers included claims that “the ABA is seduced by data,” that current and suggested reporting standards wrongly focus on the first job, and that there is no need to share more information because prospectives have a so-called inability to understand it anyways.) Instead, we focused on a very specific solution: leveraging NALP’s considerable salary data to create a centralized website that will help prospectives make accurate estimates of how much entry-level legal jobs pay.

Jerry Organ, professor at University of St. Thomas School of Law and Vanderbilt Law alumnus, suggested early in the day an alternative to LST’s salary list for demonstrating the short-term economic value of degrees. He recommended using aggregated salary data along with narrow categories instead of salaries on a graduate-by-graduate basis. Immediately, I agreed that it would be better if done correctly. After NALP’s Executive Director Jim Leipold spoke at the end of the day, the appropriate partner for the ABA became apparent. If the ABA can effectively couple their reform efforts with NALP’s mass of salary data from across the United States, we will have a tenable solution. LST will build a mock webpage over the next few weeks based on our discussion with fellow attendees, which we will share as soon as we have a workable solution.

Prior to the NALP presentation, the room was not without friction. Law school administrators were particularly concerned about the new costs they would incur in complying with a heightened disclosure standard, particularly those representing under-staffed career services offices. Many were also concerned about other costs to their programs, such as a detrimental impact on recruiting because new methods of reporting might disproportionately impact the perception of the true, unique value of their schools’ degrees. Ironically, schools were quick to point the finger at how other schools inflate their true value under the current methods.

One of the reasons that the ABA-NALP partnership solution is so attractive is that it can meet prospectives’ needs without increasing costs for schools too much (as always, reform will cost money) and without risking privacy norm violations. But even beyond a partnership, Mr. Leipold pointed out that the committee should not look beyond the NALP survey for the questions they ask. We’ve been saying this for a long time. The NALP survey data are very high quality because NALP has done a great job figuring out the right questions to ask and schools have done a great job responding. But schools can’t pretend they don’t have these data anymore. They do and the committee members know it.

The committee listened to these concerns (which are not new to us) and asked difficult questions. Despite the fact that some schools tried to absolve themselves of any responsibility to do things differently, the committee members held their ground and seemed intent on mandating change. Their line of questioning pretty quickly moved on from figuring out the problems to focusing on which solutions were tenable and accordingly worth further examination.

What remains to be seen is whether the ABA Questionnaire Committee continues showing that willingness to engage in the issues as time goes on. Knowing that most attendees appear to be on the same page is important as we move the discussion forward. It focuses future discussions on arriving at a solution that balances the interests of both the schools and prospectives, keeping in mind the legitimate interest prospectives have in understanding the short-term job opportunities that tend to await graduates of particular programs. There is a long way to go, but we are getting there. The ABA, for its part, only needs to flex its muscle and not cede to the demands of those who wish to maintain the status quo.