The Role of Local and State Bar Associations in Promoting Transparency

Some of the major stakeholder groups involved in legal education reform are the local and state bar associations, many of whom are concerned with schools’ responsiveness to the recent hiring retraction. Because bar publications are important vessels for members of the legal profession to opine about law school transparency, we will publicize such stories when we hear about them. Although we will do our best to keep tabs, LST counts on readers to point us in the right direction.

Most recently, CA State Bar President Howard B. Miller issued a call for truth in lending, which led to Above the Law calling for other bar associations to take a look at the situation. We see this as a great opportunity for local and state bar associations to engage in better discussion with law school administrators about how best to recruit and prepare the next generation of attorneys.

In researching our paper we also stumbled upon a short piece in the Columbus, OH Bar Association Newsletter by Jason M. Dolin, Esq, calling on law schools to disclose information. After drawing parallels between purchasers of a legal education – prospective students – and other unsophisticated consumers, Dolan writes:

At a minimum law schools should be required to inform their applicants at the time of application and prior to the time they have made their decision to attend about their most probable post graduation employment prospects and debt obligations. Such disclosure not only comports with the values of transparency and full disclosure taught and touted in our law schools, but with the pro-consumer disclosures required of other industries that sell costly goods and services (ie: automobiles).

We know that leaders in the legal community are tackling issues concerning law school transparency, truth in lending, disclosure, etc. There are also hundreds of state and local bar associations who may be weighing in on the problem. If you are aware of such calls coming from your respective bar associations, please let us know. If you’re interested in writing about the issue for an upcoming bar publication or newsletter, please contact us if you think we can help. In the coming weeks LST will open up official discussion with both ABA representatives and members of the Bar here in Tennessee. We will provide updates about these initiatives as they unfold.

Deferral treatment under the LST standard

We’ve received excellent feedback over the last month. One aspect not covered in our paper, but discussed by our readers, is how we plan to handle deferred graduates. A recent NALP report indicates that the deferral phenomenon is widespread, affecting graduates at all sorts of schools across the United States.

In a comment on this site, we touched on our treatment of graduates that have not started as of our February 15 reporting date. We responded to a commenter’s worry that employer information released by one school, Vanderbilt, did not match up with a particular law firm’s website as of a particular date. As confirmed by a later commenter – we are currently trying to verify this independently – this is because the firm deferred the graduate to fall 2010. Our response illustrates the decision we made to count deferred graduates as employed graduates in congruence with NALP’s policy for 2009 graduates. We tackle the separate issue of whether we should indicate when a firm deferred a graduate in a later post. Here, we explain the decision to count them as employed when they may never begin working.

See more after the jump »»

Certified v. Uncertified Lists

In previous posts (#1, #2, #3, #4) we’ve casually referred to “uncertified lists.” We figure it is time to explain more carefully what we mean by this.

When we say “certified list” we refer to a list that meets the LST Standard. When we say “uncertified list” we refer to any list that falls short of the LST Standard.

We chose certified and uncertified to describe lists because the certified category provides express permission to use the LST certification mark (first mentioned in our paper). Schools that publish certified lists can bear a certification mark if the list meets our criteria. Additionally, schools can claim to be an “LST Certified Law School” when they publish certified lists for the previous 3 years. We will explain our certification marks in an upcoming post.

All of the lists we have published so far have fallen short of the LST Standard. While employment lists like these that account for all or nearly all graduates for some of the components are admirable, missing certain features limits the usefulness of the data. We believe we’ve come to an optimal solution that balances the legitimate interests of all important stakeholders, thus will not offer certification to the lists we’ve already published. However, these schools will have the opportunity to submit certified lists now or in the future when we make the official request.

Vanderbilt Class of 2009 Uncertified List

This uncertified list includes – as of graduation – the city, state, and employer name for each employed 2009 Vanderbilt graduate, as well as a mention for each graduate pursuing another graduate degree. The original list appeared in Vanderbilt’s 2009 Career Services brochure. We transcribed the whole list into the attached spreadsheet.

If any readers are aware of lists that similarly disaggregate employment summaries that account for all or nearly all graduates, we are happy to publish them when you provide them. As always, we strive to make this important employment data available to everybody, even when it does not meet our standard. Per our privacy policy we will not reveal your identity.

Chicago employment list clarification

We need to clarify and correct comments we made to Above the Law and in our paper. We stated that, “[s]ince we first started this transparency project [in 2008], three law schools — Vandy, then Duke, and now Chicago — have begun publishing full employment lists for graduating classes.”

As it turns out, when The University of Chicago Law School published the Class of 2009 list in their Fall 2009 Alumni magazine, it was not the first time Chicago released this data to certain stakeholders. According to Marsha Ferziger Nagorsky, Assistant Dean for Communications and Lecturer in Law at The University of Chicago Law School, “for at least forty years [Chicago has] provided an annual list of our graduates and their employers – first in our student facebook (lists in the facebook dating back at least to 1970-71 are available in our library), and more recently in our alumni magazine.”

If any current students or Chicago faculty would like to find and share these lists, we are happy to redact and publish these lists for prospective students to see.

Thank you Dean Nagorsky for contacting us and informing us of our mistake. As we promised The University of Chicago Law School, we will fix this mistake in the forthcoming revision to our paper.

In her email, Dean Nagorsky also corrected the misimpression that we have led people to believe that this list was released by Chicago due to our efforts. We must clarify this point very clearly. We have been careful not to ascribe causality, though we do say that a tipster provided us Chicago’s list, which is accurate. And while we understand that Chicago did not change its disclosure methods because of our efforts, the fact that someone provided us with the list so that we could make it available to the public was the direct result of our efforts to improve transparency in employment reporting.

If any readers are aware of other schools that are in the practice of letting current students and/or alumni know where recent graduates end up working, we encourage you to let us know. Per our privacy policy and sensible deference, we will not reveal your identity. As always, we strive to make this important employment data available to all stakeholders, not just alumni and current students, even when it does not meet our standard.

Are Schools Capable of Producing These Lists?

There’s been skepticism about whether schools are even capable of collecting the data covered by our standard. As we will show in this post, and contrary to that skepticism about whether schools can tell the whole story, schools already do a good job with reporting to NALP. We don’t need to improve collection efforts to be successful (though that would be nice); our goal can be reached by persuading schools to release the currently available data.

Of the eight unique components across the Job List and Salary List, ABA-approved law schools already collect six directly about students: Employer Type, Office Location, Employer Name, Bar Passage Required/Preferred/Neither, Full-time/Part-time, and Salary. However, just because NALP collects these data from schools doesn’t mean schools have data for every graduate. Reporting percentages vary for each component.

According to the latest information on NALP’s website, for the class of 2007, NALP-reporting schools reported employment outcome data for at least 40,416 of 41,707 law school graduates (a 96.9% reporting rate). Although schools could do a better job at tracking everyone down every year, we are not concerned about whether schools or graduates are to blame for that other 4.1%. We are looking at the graduates for which NALP already collects substantial data. We seek the abovementioned components because they are both important and well-documented by schools already.
See the data after the jump »»

Components of the LST Standard

Thanks to everyone who has contacted us over the last week to voice support. We’ve tried to keep up with all of the comments popping up on sites like Above The Law and the ABA Journal, but because we want to centralize the discussion we are going to respond as often as we can here at LST. Many of you are raising important issues about various parts of this project, and we want your voices to be heard. All stakeholders should have the chance to comment and be taken seriously, and since we are moving through this process rather quickly it makes sense to address as many concerns as we can now.

Our article is long, so we do not expect everyone to read it. However, we think it’s important to highlight why the proposed standard looks like it does for those of you who don’t have the time to read the article. We expect and want your criticism. The components of this standard are, at the moment, fluid, so it’s going to take a lot of discussion to be sure that the standard is optimized for wide-scale adoption. In the coming weeks we will discuss each component in greater detail, addressing your concerns along with the ones we outline in our article.

The LST standard actually calls for two distinct lists, not just one. Both of these lists are anonymous; graduates’ names are purposely left out of the picture. In fact, if we receive names from you we will redact them. The design of the two lists also ensures that people cannot link rows together (except in somewhat rare situations). This protects the privacy of employers who are not registered on NALP and/or don’t publish starting salaries. Separating salary out from other identifiable information also protects the privacy of individual graduates who don’t want their jobs lined up with salaries. The central goal is that both lists account for every graduate in a class for a particular graduation year, no matter what they do (or don’t do). As has been reported in the press, the most important quality of the new standard is that it does not hide outcomes in aggregate forms like the current ABA and U.S. News standards.

Without further ado, here are the two lists we’ve been talking about:

Job List
1. Employer Type
2. Employer Name
3. Position
4. Credentials
5. Full-Time / Part-Time
6. Office Location (City, State, Country)
7. Salary Source
8. Journal

Salary List
1. Employer Type
2. Office Location (City, State, Country)
3. Full-Time / Part-Time
4. Salary

So what happens if a graduate is unemployed or pursuing another degree? The individual’s row should indicate this in the “Employer Type” field. We will explain the guidelines in greater detail in a later post (UPDATED: view guidelines here).

As always, your comments and concerns are greatly important and appreciated.

Your Role Moving Forward

We have been seeing a lot of traffic to LST in the last few weeks. Your interest is encouraging, even if many have doubts about the level of compliance we can reach in the first year. The more our visitors discuss the new standard, the more likely schools will agree to comply. Once we make our official request, schools will have 60 days to meet and discuss whether they will comply. In the meantime, we strongly encourage everybody to contact the schools.

Law School Administrators: We encourage you to pass along word of this initiative within your administrations and at other schools with whom you correspond. We have already begun contacting many of you and will continue to do so; we hope each of you will take some time over the next few months to seriously consider our initiative and perhaps determine ahead of time whether you plan on responding to our first official request.

Faculty: We encourage all of you to review our paper on SSRN and debate the merits of our proposal. Though we have involved a number of you in the initial process of drafting the paper, we would appreciate any scholarly responses you may wish to provide. Law school faculty play an important role in the dialogue needed to make the changes we seek.

Alumni: Let your schools know whether you approve of the new reporting standard. If you disapprove, we ask that you make your concerns known to the schools so they can use your comments in preparing their response. If you approve of this effort, we ask that you indicate how your behavior may change towards the school depending on whether or not they choose to comply.

Current Students: You all play an important role in shaping how your law school views itself within the market, both for recruiting prospectives and for recruiting potential employers. Let them know what you think about this effort. What can this standard do to increase your own job prospects, by making the names of all employers for the graduating classes of a number of ABA-approved law schools available? Could it hurt your prospects, and if so how? What do you think this will do for your school’s recruiting efforts, particularly as peer programs improve their level of transparency and potentially lure risk-averse prospective students away?

Accepted Students: Out of all the stakeholders, the greatest information-forcing authority lies with you. As we have mentioned many times on discussion boards like Top Law Schools, you should leverage your acceptances to procure additional information from the law schools. We regret that we will not be making our request until after you have likely made your decision, however many ABA-approved law schools are already on notice that many of you want better information. This initiative began with requests from prospective law students, and its success will depend on your continued support of this initiative. As always, you can send us any information related to post-graduation outcomes you receive. Good hunting.

A Way Forward

Update: We have submitted our article to a number of law reviews and posted a working draft to SSRN. The article will hopefully spark some discussion in academia as we move forward to implement our new standard. Please send us your comments.

A Way Forward: Improving Transparency in Employment Reporting at American Law Schools
The decision to attend law school in the 21st century requires an increasingly significant financial investment, yet very little information about the value of a legal education is available for prospective law students. Prospectives use various tools provided by schools and third parties while seeking to make an informed decision about which law school to attend. This Article surveys the available information with respect to one important segment of the value analysis: post-graduation employment outcomes.

One of the most pressing issues with current access to information is the ability to hide outcomes in aggregate statistical forms. Just about every tool enables this behavior, which, while misleading, often complies with the current ABA and U.S. News reporting standards. In this Article, we propose a new standard for employment reporting grounded in compromise. Our hope is that this standard enables prospectives to take a detailed, holistic look at the diverse employment options from different law schools. In time, improved transparency at American law institutions can produce generations of lawyers who were better informed about the range of jobs obtainable with a law degree.