Law Schools Are on Notice

Today, we officially requested that law schools commit to complying with LST’s new standard for employment reporting. This email was sent to every ABA-approved and provisionally-approved law school’s dean, admissions department, and career services department. It was accompanied by the LST Standard’s tentative guidelines, sample lists, a short essay on the benefits of the new standard, sample discussion about LST, and the press release we’ve distributed.

Attention Deans and Directors:

Law School Transparency (“LST”) is a Tennessee non-profit corporation dedicated to encouraging and facilitating the transparent flow of law school employment information. Pursuant to this goal, we respectfully request that your law school commit to complying with LST’s new standard for employment reporting.

The current ABA and U.S. News employment reporting standards are seriously limited by their form and substance. These standards aggregate employment outcomes, overemphasize certain portions of the class, and make it difficult to answer meaningful questions about employment prospects. The most important features of our standard help resolve these deficiencies. We arrived at the standard’s features by considering the interests of law school administrators, employers, and students, and balanced those concerns with legitimate consumer expectations. In doing so, we have taken special care to ensure that law schools are capable of complying with the new standard without introducing too many new administrative costs.

Starting with the Class of 2010, we request that your school report to LST two lists with data about every graduate as of February 15, 2011. We formulated the list components with strong consideration to the data law schools already collect about a very large percentage of graduates. Your school already reports seven of the nine unique components to NALP. The two additional components – “Salary Source” and “Journal Status” – require minimal adaptation. To further reduce compliance costs, our standard requests data for graduates from the same time period, and as of the same date, as the ABA, NALP, and U.S. News request.

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

Attached to this request are tentative guidelines for fairly, accurately, and uniformly reporting data under our standard. The guidelines will be finalized by November 15, 2010. Until then, we reserve the right to clarify how your school can best fill out each component. The finalized 2010 guidelines will serve as The Official LST Standard; compliance with The Official LST Standard will authorize your law school to use our certification mark. LST will not charge law schools a fee for Mark certification.

LST asks that your office respond to within sixty (60) days of delivery. During the interim period, we encourage you to consult with your administration, your students, your alumni, and other law schools. If you decide not to commit to disclosing according to the LST Standard, we respectfully request that you provide your reasons for declining to disclose. We recognize that not all schools will share our view that there is a need for greater transparency. If your school disagrees with our position, we would like to have an open, on-the-record dialogue to debate the merits of our respective positions.

Our website – www.lawschooltransparency.com – will be updated at the end of the 60-day period with a summary of the responses we received, broken down by school. We will educate the public with what we learned from each law school, including correspondence that aids prospective students and the legal profession as they try to distinguish among schools by their reactions to this request. As a reminder, we reserve the right to publish any of our correspondence with your law school.

We look forward to hearing from your law school by September 10, 2010. In the meantime, please send any comments or concerns to .

Sincerely,

Patrick J. Lynch, J.D.
Co-Founder

Kyle McEntee
Co-Founder

LST and its administrators operate independently of any legal institutions, legal employers, or academic reports related to the legal market. This email was sent to each ABA-approved and provisionally-approved law school’s dean, admissions department, and career services department.

A Response to the JD Surplus Argument

We have received a lot of thoughts both via email and elsewhere about whether a new reporting standard will make any difference if the real problem is a surplus of lawyers. While the market retraction has exacerbated the number of JD graduates who can’t find suitable work, the problem we have focused on solving — how to get uninformed consumers on the path to making better decisions about whether, when, and where to enter the legal profession — is nothing new. Some commenters hope that we pave the way to fewer lawyers by discouraging a significant number of would-be lawyers from ever attending law school. This is not our goal, though it may be one consequence.

As we mention in our paper, better information about where graduates go will highlight law schools that have successfully created a niche. Whether this niche is in a particular region or city, a field of law, or a sector (think Government or Public Interest), the standard provides schools with a new opportunity to publicize their unique placement ability. Displaying where all graduates go post-graduation can help match students to the right programs, minimizing the effect of national rankings on student decision-making. The choice then becomes less about what a school ranks each year in U.S. News and more about how each school can help a student achieve her goals. If it’s clearer where a school fits into the legal hiring market, schools will be encouraged to adapt and innovate. Schools want graduates to be successful and give back to the institution, and figuring out how to recruit and train new lawyers in ways that maximize employment outcomes and minimize debt loads is a burden we fully expect schools are willing (and able) to carry.

Many critics are nevertheless concerned that there are just too many law schools graduating too many law students. They fear that simply providing more meaningful employment information will do too little to stop law schools from graduating a surplus of debt-ridden attorneys, many of whom need not only on-the-job training and mentoring but jobs that permit debt repayment. We think a market retraction is a great time for legal education institutions to innovate. Shutting the doors or shrinking class sizes are just two possible reactions. Some others include increasing scholarship funding and reducing tuition to minimize debt loads, emphasizing niche placement, and developing apprenticeship programs during school or after graduation (more here). Whether schools shrink their class sizes or go away will depend on their ability to meet the needs of both employers and students.

Concerns about how schools should react is appropriately the subject of next week’s annual Tennessee Judicial Conference. LST co-founder Patrick Lynch is participating in a panel discussion about some of these same questions, along with Vanderbilt’s Assistant Dean for Student Affairs, the Dean of Nashville School of Law, and the Dean of the new Belmont University College of Law. We are very excited about the opportunity to present our thoughts to members of the Bench and Bar here in Tennessee, and we expect a lively discussion with the audience.

We will post our thoughts on the discussion after the conference. In the meantime, please send us yours.

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 »»

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.