Breaking: ABA sued by Duncan School of Law

The Knoxville News Sentinel is reporting that Lincoln Memorial University is suing the ABA in federal court. (View the complaint here.) Earlier this week, LMU’s law school, the John R. Duncan Jr. School of Law, was denied provisional accreditation by the ABA Section of Legal Education because it was not in substantial compliance with Standards 202, 303, and 501, including low admissions standards. The school has already received accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the Tennessee Board of Law Examiners.

The lawsuit claims that the ABA violated antitrust laws. “What it says is that in a nutshell, we were denied due process because we met the standards promulgated by the ABA and we didn’t receive accreditation, so what we’re seeking is fair hearing,” said Sydney A. Beckman, vice president and dean of LMU’s law school. “It also alleges antitrust violations because it appears when you deny a school that met accreditation standards, that you’re try to limit the number of law schools.”

In the complaint, LMU observes that “”Defendant ABA’s actions also constitute an intentional misuse of its dominate market power as the gatekeeper for for accreditation of law schools and the benefits that accompany that status.” Blank Rome’s Michael Cioffi contributed to this complaint. He also worked on Cooley’s Sixth Circuit appeal for one of its branch campuses back in 2006.

Dean Beckman told the Knoxville NBC affiliate,”We regret having to take this action. We want to work with the ABA to improve legal education, not work against them or have them work against us.”

Whatever the result of this suit, it is clear that the pressure on the ABA will continue until the entire legal education system substantially changes.

Related:

For Law Schools, a Price to Play the ABA’s Way

The latest piece in David Segal’s series on U.S. law school problems identifies the enormous effect that some of the ABA Standards, especially those that affect faculty composition, have on the cost of providing legal education. The dean of the new Duncan School of Law claims that he could charge substantially less (by half or two-thirds) if it were not for the standards. This is not the first time we’ve heard a dean clamor about how expensive the accreditation standards are; in fact, the dean of another new Tennessee law school, Belmont University College of Law, made a similar claim back in the summer of 2010.

Knowing this, we recently advised the ABA Section of Legal Education’s standards review committee to “create a subcommittee to review regulatory barriers preventing law schools from adapting low-cost models.” To date, neither the committee nor the section have not done so.

The profession needs radical change to the law school cost structure. If the answers do not come quickly from legal educators, such as those involved in the Section of Legal Education, the result will be that educators end up forfeiting their right to control the changes. And if the answers have to come from elsewhere, unbreaking the broken law school model will be as painful as it is necessary.

Senate Hearing on Law School Transparency Is Being “Strongly Considered”

We can now report that we’ve made great progress towards securing a hearing on law schools’ presentation of employment information in their recruiting materials, in the ABA Official Guide, and in U.S. News. It became apparent that additional involvement was necessary after the ABA Section of Legal Education’s questionnaire committee failed to ask questions pertaining to the legal employment rate on the 2011 questionnaire, despite pleas to the contrary.

For almost a decade, the Section of Legal Education has asked law schools the very basic question of, “how many of your students worked in a full-time legal job after graduation?” Despite having the answers, the section has never published this information. Whether intentional or careless, this is concerning. And with all eyes on the section’s reform efforts, failure to remedy this problem in a timely fashion appears to be worth an investigation.

If and when this hearing happens, we expect the discussion of law school transparency to broaden to questions about the law school cost structure. It is important to ask why and how the average law graduate’s debt (over $100,000) could reach such an extreme. To this end, structural transparency is crucial to understanding and fixing the broken law school model.

Some of the reason for the massive debt is that prospective law students, but not law schools, lack the information they need to make meaningful decisions. Some of it is that law school is an all-but necessary gateway to the legal profession. Additionally, there is a deeply entrenched view in the U.S. about law school being a magic ticket to financial security.

But the increase in law school costs go deeper than the reasons people choose to attend law school. It has much to do with how those who attend choose to finance their educations. Law schools run on essentially limitless student loans. With this constant stream of financing, law school budgets expand, often in the name of better quality. But is law school quality three times better than it was in the 1980s? Four times? While difficult to quantify, few would say it is.

Unfortunately, cost considerations have been absent from reform efforts because there are insufficient checks in place to keep costs down. It is time for the ABA Section of Legal Education, Congress, and law schools to explore how to change the law school model. The damage needs to be undone. The effects of this broken model are felt well beyond the individuals who choose to debt-finance their education. Good economy or bad economy, the issue is not going away.

To read more, check out the Wall Street Journal’s story.

LST’s Statement to the Standards Review Committee

Today, one of LST’s advisory board members will read a statement on behalf of LST at the ABA Section of Legal Education’s Standards Review Committee meeting. The new chair, Dean Lewis from St. Louis University School of Law (Dean Emeritus), provided the following open invitation to those interested in law school accreditation standards.

The Standards Review Committee of the ABA Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar is holding its first meeting of the academic year on November 11-12, 2011, at the Ritz Carlton Chicago. I am the new chair of the Committee; along with six additional new members, I will be joining seven continuing members of the Committee.

On Friday, November 11, the Committee will hold an open forum from 9:15 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Open Forum will provide the members of the Committee an opportunity to hear personally from those organizations and individuals who have an interest in the work of the Committee as it continues the comprehensive review of the Standards of Accreditation.

The majority of the time allotted for the forum will be assigned to invited organizations. Other interested individuals and entities are invited to speak during the last hour of the forum and will be allotted five minutes during this final hour on a first come basis.

The Committee will listen to interested constituents on Friday, as indicated. On Saturday the Committee will review and discuss the current work product. No action on any substantive matters will be taken at this November meeting.

We thank the committee for the opportunity to lend a consumer-oriented voice to accreditation reform. We hope that the committee takes seriously the need to help reduce the cost of obtaining a legal education.

LST’s Statement

I am here today on behalf of Law School Transparency to emphasize the need for the Section to assert its role in reforming legal education while keeping in mind the two consumers of legal education: students and employers.

Since its founding in 2009, Law School Transparency has lent a consumer-oriented voice to reforming law schools. LST has investigated how law schools portray the job stats of their graduates, how the Section of Legal Education regulates this law school behavior, and why miscues in resolving these problems may indicate that continued, outside pressure for consumer-oriented reforms will be necessary.

Much of LST’s time is spent advocating not just for measures that require schools to stop misleading prospective law students, but for measures that can enable prospectives to make informed decisions about whether and where to attend law school. The proposal by Dean Yellen’s subcommittee is a step in the right direction. It is critical that the committee approve their proposal. And it’s vital that schools post comparable, up-to-date information on their websites. Publishing information in the Official Guide is not enough.

This committee must also recognize that the 509 subcommittee’s work will not be finished if and when the Council finally approves the new Standard 509. While the changes will do much to stop schools from actively misleading prospectives, it will not help them understand which schools best meet their individual career objectives. This committee can and should be doing more than just making information available for public consumption, particularly if it wishes to minimize the impact of third parties like U.S. News. Without helping on this front, prospective students will continue disproportionally relying on the U.S. News rankings as their go-to for sorting different programs. Besides this very useful goal of reducing the impact of the rankings, even if only a little, law schools and the Section have a special obligation as educators. This is not just about doing the bare minimum; it is about improving students’ educational experiences, as well as the experience of those who use their services after law school.

These obligations extend to the committee’s review of all accreditation standards.

Consumers have limited knowledge about what a sound legal education consists of. This is why we need consumer protection in the first place. Relatedly, it’s the educators who do know the ins and outs of legal education. You engage every day with students, and have the opportunity to learn about education in a way that those who simply go through it do not. Those of you who volunteer to work within the Section of Legal Education have an even better understanding of how things work, and an even stronger interest in protecting students.

It has become apparent that legal education has gotten away from legal educators in some respects. There are almost 200 schools vying to be Harvard-like think tanks. Tuition prices are tied to a distorted market rate loosely based on a school’s U.S. News ranking and geographic location. Does anyone expect that this pricing model, which relies on student loans and dwindling credibility, will survive public scrutiny? Congressional scrutiny?

Many member schools have taken advantage of a lenient Standard 509 in maintaining their race to imitate those at the top. It has become imperative for each school’s admissions office to dress up the employment prospects in order to compete in recruiting top students. But is the Harvard deluxe model for everyone? At some point, as more and more graduates question their own ability to practice law upon graduation and more clients refuse to pay for their services, we must question the current model. This means inquiring as to whether the accreditation standards can be changed to allow other models to emerge.

A chief concern must be how to ensure that the cost of obtaining a legal education can be reduced. It is wrong for schools to ask what students are willing to pay when setting prices. Consider the tuition and graduate debt from the school you teach at or graduated from, and how quickly those numbers grew over the last 25 years. It should be clear that for too long, cost considerations have been absent from reform discussions. The cost of a legal education in the United States is obscene, and its effects are felt well beyond the individuals who choose to debt-finance their education.

The law school cost structure will receive continued attention in the coming days, weeks, and months. The buzz among faculty and administrators will be about what subtle changes can be made to reduce costs. Reducing costs to any great extent will seem insurmountable. That’s because subtle changes are not the answer.

The profession needs radical change to the law school cost structure. We must be asking how to get ourselves out of this mess. If the answers do not come quickly from legal educators, the result will be that educators end up forfeiting their right to control the changes. And if the answers have to come from elsewhere, unbreaking the broken law school model will be as painful as it is necessary.

A few specific areas need to be addressed immediately. First, Dean Lewis should create a subcommittee to review regulatory barriers preventing law schools from adapting low-cost models. It is problematic—and there are people here today who agree—that organizations like AALS are fighting so hard, as the cost of educating new lawyers lurches skyward, to require tenure for ABA-approval. Some schools are finding ways to increase value and better prepare graduates by relying on more adjuncts and fewer tenured professors; such adaptive models should be encouraged by the standards, not restricted. Other standards and interpretations also serve to make cost reductions more difficult. When the time comes, LST and I’m sure others will be happy to point out the standards that create the toughest barriers.

Finally, the Section must do a better job at policing its members if it wants to stay relevant in the discussion. This means having standards in place that are tough enough to permit sanctions and embolden the accreditation committee to be more assertive. When ABA-approved law schools start getting sued for alleged fraud and violations of state consumer protection laws, the value of “ABA-approved” has less meaning. If schools are not investigated and properly sanctioned by the Section of Legal Education, then the bad apples will make all member schools look worse by association. As of now only a handful of schools are facing class actions, but many more will come in the coming months. The more often ABA-approved schools get slapped with lawsuits, the less it means anything to actually be ABA-approved. It is a promise of quality, and the Section must be taking greater steps to protect consumers, which necessarily means being tougher on how its members recruit those consumers.

Above all, it is important not to compromise the values of the Section of Legal Education in the name of appeasing stakeholders who argue on behalf of themselves, rather than their consumers. When setting policy and creating new standards, we hope committee members distance themselves as much as possible from the dual roles many of them play as deans, professors, or counsel to institutions of higher education. Part of this means seeking members of the profession who can assist the committee in redefining what a ‘quality legal education’ entails. Ultimately if the current Section committee members are not up for the challenge, the responsibilities of shaping legal education will need to be placed somewhere else.

In closing, we hope you will take LST’s comments to heart, and that you will ask yourselves the questions we have posed before you this afternoon. Thank you.

Breaking: Coburn, Boxer Call for Department of Education to Examine Questions of Law School Transparency

A third United States Senator has formally recognized the importance of law school transparency.

In a letter to the Inspector General of the Department of Education, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) have asked the IG to examine American law schools. The Senators will use the IG’s resulting report to inform Congress as it considers whether and how to reform the Higher Education Act.

One goal of this investigation is to better understand certain trends related to law schools over the past ten years. In particular, the Senators are concerned with the growth of enrollments and costs, budgets, graduate debt, bar passage rates, and employment rates. Notably, the Senators emphasize the importance of the legal employment rate.

These questions will point to unsettling answers. While we expect some of the trends to be relatively flat, including the percentage of people employed in legal jobs and bar passage rates, others will show a relatively steep incline.

In particular, enrollment growth at ABA-approved law schools is roughly 14.6% since 2001, while the total number of schools has grown by 8.7%. Meanwhile, over the same period, the total number of law degrees awarded has increased by 16%.

The amount of debt is perhaps most concerning. Over this same period, public ABA-approved law school attendee debt has increased 48% to roughly $69,000. The amount borrowed for those attending private ABA-approved schools increased 51.5% to roughly $106,000. Without much needed reform, these numbers will continue to rise.

Law School Transparency cares about much more than law schools providing adequate consumer information. Continued pressure from Congress, lawsuits, and other reform advocates will push law schools to honestly evaluate the American legal education model. However, reimagining a broken model will take a lot more than letters and getting people their day in court. We hope to see additional congressional inquiries. Legal educators need to answer hard questions about the current, expensive model in order to determine how to reduce costs. We look forward to working with all interested stakeholders as these issues continue to progress.

Senator Coburn and Senator Boxer Letter

October 13, 2011

Ms. Kathleen Tighe
Inspector General
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Ave., S.W.
Washington, DC 20202-1500

To help better inform Congress as it prepares to reform the Higher Education Act, we write to request an examination of American law schools that focuses on the confluence of growing enrollments, steadily increasing tuition rates and allegedly sluggish job placement.

Recent media stories reveal concerning challenges for students and graduates of such schools. For example, The New York Times reported on a law school that “increased the size of the class arriving in the fall of 2009 by an astounding 30 percent, even as hiring in the legal profession imploded.” The New York Times found the same school is ranked in the bottom third of all law schools in the country and has tuition and fees set at $47,800 a year but reported to prospective students median starting salaries rivaling graduates of the best schools in the nation “even though most of its graduates, in fact, find work at less than half that amount.”

Other reports question whether or not law schools are properly disclosing their graduation rates to prospective students. Inside Higher Ed recently highlighted several pending lawsuits which “argue that students were essentially robbed of the ability to make good decisions about whether to pay tuition (and to take out student loans) by being forced to rely on incomplete and inaccurate job placement information. Specifically, the suits charge the law schools in question (and many of their peers) mix together different kinds of employment (including jobs for which a J.D. is not needed) to inflate employment rates.”

Media exposes also reveal possible concerns about whether tuition and fees charged by law schools are used directly for legal education, or for purposes unrelated to legal education. For example, The New York Times reports “law schools toss off so much cash they are sometimes required to hand over as much as 30 percent of their revenue to universities, to subsidize less profitable fields.” The Baltimore Sun recently reported on the resignation of the Dean of the University of Baltimore (UB) Law School, who said he resigned, in part, over his frustration that the law school’s revenue was not being retained to serve students at the school. In his resignation letter, UB’s Dean noted: “The financial data [of the school] demonstrates that the amount and percentage of the law school revenue retained by the university has increased, particularly over the last two years. For the most recent academic year (AY 10-11), our tuition increase generated $1,455,650 in additional revenue. Of that amount, the School of Law budget increased by only $80,744.”

To better understand trends related to law schools over the most recent ten-year window, we request your office provide the following information:

1. The current enrollments, as well as the historical growth of enrollments, at American law schools – in the aggregate, and also by sector (i.e., private, public, for-profit).

2. Current tuition and fee rates, as well as the historical growth of tuition and fees, at American law schools – in the aggregate, and also by sector (i.e., private, public, for-profit).

3. The percentage of law school revenue generated that is retained to administer legal education, operate law school facilities, and the percentage and dollar amount used for other, non-legal educational purposes by the broader university system. If possible, please provide specific examples of what activities and expenses law school revenues are being used to support if such revenue does not support legal education directly.

4. The amount of federal and private educational loan debt legal students carried upon graduation, again in the aggregate and across sectors.

5. The current bar passage rates and graduation rates of students at American law schools, again in the aggregate and across sectors.

6. The job placement rates of American law school graduates; indicating whether such jobs are full- or part-time positions, whether they require a law degree, and whether they were maintained a year after employment.

In your final analysis, please include a description of the methodology the IG employed to acquire and analyze information for the report. Please also note any obstacles to acquiring pertinent information the agency may encounter.

We thank you in advance for your time and attention to this matter. Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions concerning this request.

Sincerely,

Tom A. Coburn,
M.D. United States Senator

Barbara Boxer
United States Senator

Senator Boxer Questions ABA’s Resistance to Basic Change

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer has once again reached out to the ABA to express concern about the ABA Section of Legal Education’s regulatory failings. This is the third letter from Senator Boxer. The first and second letters, addressed to immediate past ABA President Stephen Zack, both called for the ABA to shore up its oversight responsibilities as it pertains to the provision and verification of consumer information provided by law schools to prospective law students. This letter (full text below), sent to current ABA President William T. (Bill) Robinson III, follows the same themes, though it specifically criticizes the Section’s decision not to require law schools to disclose their legal employment rates for the Class of 2010. It remains clear that the Senator’s interest in law school transparency is not fleeting, but rather the product of genuine concern and disbelief that law schools habitually provide misleading employment information and that the Section of Legal Education is not doing enough to curb institutional misbehavior.

This letter comes in the wake of an editorial we wrote in the National Law Journal. We criticized the Section’s proposed changes to the annual questionnaire because they did not require law schools to disclose their legal employment rates for the Class of 2010.

On Sept. 23, the Section’s Questionnaire Committee will finalize the 2011 questionnaire, which asks about the class of 2010. Additional reforms are slated for 2012. If nothing changes, the section will collect fewer job characteristics data than it has collected in prior years. Apparently, whether a job requires bar passage or only prefers a J.D., or whether a job is full- or part-time, are now too obscure to define without many more meetings.

After the Sept. 23 meeting, nothing changed. In fact, during the meeting certain committee members actually proposed additional ways to count graduate outcomes as desirable, including counting unemployed graduates as employed so long as they had declined a legal offer. While other committee members refuted this attempt to favor law schools over graduates, this sort of protectionism runs counter to basic notions of consumer protection and has no place in the regulation of our country’s law schools.

The 2011 questionnaire, which will no longer ask whether a job is legal in nature, is now active and due at the end of this month. While we believe that Senator Boxer’s letter will eventually force the schools to provide the Class of 2010 legal employment rates at each law school, it should not take congressional hand-holding to get the Section to require such basic consumer information.

As Senator Boxer points out in her letter:

In a year when a number of lawsuits alleging consumer protection law violations have been filed against ABA law schools, when major newspapers have devoted thousands of words to problems with law school reporting practices, and when two United States Senators have encouraged significant changes to your policies, it is surprising that the ABA is resorting to half measures instead of tackling a major problem head on.

The letter also follows an announcement yesterday that two law firms are planning to file class action lawsuits against 15 additional ABA-approved law schools. Taken together, the events of this week may indicate that the Section of Legal Education has less time than it thinks to start turning things around.

Senator Boxer’s Letter

Dear Mr. Robinson:

Following the previous correspondence between your predecessor and me concerning law school reporting practices, I am writing to address some unresolved issues. While I applaud the American Bar Association’s Section of Legal Education for addressing other deficiencies with current post-graduation employment and salary reporting requirements, I was very disappointed to learn that the Section decided not to require that law schools report the percentage of their graduates working in the legal profession or the percentage of graduates working in part-time legal jobs in its upcoming questionnaire.

In my two previous letters to your predecessor, I indicated my strong belief that the ABA should ensure that post-graduation employment data provided to prospective law students is truthful and transparent. His responses appeared to indicate a similar interest, but unfortunately it is difficult to square those previous statements with the Section’s recent decision.

According to The National Law Journal, a Washington University law professor has determined that for the Class of 2009, at least thirty law schools had 50 percent or fewer of their graduates in jobs that required a law degree. Data published by the National Association for Law Placement indicates that since 2001, only two- thirds of graduates from all ABA-approved law schools obtained legal jobs.

However, we know that most law schools report that nearly all of their students have jobs shortly after graduation. The difference between the information reported by schools and the real legal employment rate for recent graduates is very troubling. That is why requiring law schools to accurately report the real legal employment rate of their graduates is so important.

In a year when a number of lawsuits alleging consumer protection law violations have been filed against ABA law schools, when major newspapers have devoted thousands of words to problems with law school reporting practices, and when two United States Senators have encouraged significant changes to your policies, it is surprising that the ABA is resorting to half measures instead of tackling a major problem head on.

I also continue to have concerns about the lack of transparency for prospective law students in other areas:

Independent Oversight

The Section of Legal Education failed to address the overwhelming need for independent oversight and auditing of statistics reported by law schools. In September, the University of Illinois was found to have been inaccurately reporting law school admissions statistics, the second such school to have done so in recent months. In addition, many lawsuits have been filed alleging that law schools are violating various state consumer protection laws and false advertising laws.

These developments are very troubling, and without independent verification of the information reported by law schools, the opportunity to file inaccurate reports will remain.

Merit Scholarships

As I noted in a previous letter, the New York Times has detailed the recent increase in the number of merit scholarships offered by law schools and demonstrated how scholarships are being used to convince students with high LSAT scores to attend lower-ranked law schools.

While the opportunity to earn a very expensive law degree at a fraction of the cost can be an attractive option for many students, the Times exposed a major problem with scholarship transparency. Many law schools fail disclose how the school’s grading curve and scholarship conditions can combine to prevent the student from understanding the scholarship’s real value.

It was reported that at one school, 57 percent of first-year students in one class year received a merit scholarship, but only one-third of the students in that entire class could receive a GPA high enough to maintain their scholarships. Students should have more information about the risks of accepting merit scholarships so that they can make fully-informed decisions about their future.

I appreciate the ABA’s willingness to make some changes to its reporting requirements, but I believe it is in the best interest of law students everywhere for the ABA to address these remaining issues as soon as possible. I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Barbara Boxer
United States Senator

Illinois admits admissions data fraud

The National Law Journal reports that University of Illinois College of Law reported inaccurate admissions data to the Section of Legal Education for the past three years. The school did not report inaccurate admissions data to the Section this year, but it is important to note that it did not have the opportunity because the annual questionnaire is not due until October 31st.

The College of Law’s dean had this to say:

Dear College of Law Community:

I write with an update on the ongoing investigation relating to student profile data at the College of Law.

I have previously reported to you that profile data (median LSAT and median GPA) for the class of 2014 disseminated by the College of Law were inaccurate, and that the College has since posted accurate, verified data on its website. Ten years of profiles have been rigorously reviewed, and the inquiry has now determined that student profile data for the classes of 2011, 2012, and 2013 were also inaccurate. The accurate, verified data for these classes (and the previously reported data, indicated in parentheses) are as follows: Class of 2011: LSAT 165 (166) and GPA 3.6 (3.6); Class of 2012: LSAT 165 (166) and GPA 3.7 (3.8); and Class of 2013: LSAT 167 (167) and GPA 3.6 (3.8).

The College is continuing to cooperate fully with the investigation and will report additional findings once they become available.

Sincerely,

Bruce

Bruce P. Smith
Dean and Guy Raymond Jones Faculty Scholar
University of Illinois College of Law

Illinois plans to hire an independent auditor. We would like to reiterate that the Law School Admissions Council would be the cheapest method of ensuring accurate admissions data. All ABA-approved law schools are members. Representatives of LSAC have said that LSAC is not interested in auditing admissions data, despite presently having the capabilities to do so.

Op/Ed in the NLJ: ABA should make law schools provide better job statistics now

Originally published in the National Law Journal.

Critics calling for law school reform are rousing an old discussion about problems with legal education. Recently, their focus has been on the provision of misleading job placement statistics. People are tired of law schools’ dishonest tactics, a sentiment that grows as the number of examples of fraud and corruption increases. Furthermore, they are beginning to understand the negative externalities caused by students unwisely choosing to attend law school, both to the legal profession and elsewhere.

The main problem with the employment information stems from the American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, which includes any job in its basic employment rate. Law schools truthfully advertise rates above 90% because they report employment data according to the section’s standard. Nevertheless, these advertisements mislead prospective law students when coupled with two popular yet distorted consumer beliefs: that lawyering is a lucrative profession and that the rates reflect legal jobs.

Law schools are aware of these distortions, but they have no pecuniary incentive to tear down the information asymmetry that protects the legal employment rate. Ever the optimists, prospective law students do not discover the realities of a school’s job placement until too late. Until recently, structural problems with employment information have been the profession’s dirty little secret.

The number of affected graduates has grown during the past few years, but the problem is not unique to the post-2009 job market. Since the turn of the century, just two-thirds of all ABA-approved law school graduates obtained jobs requiring bar passage within nine months of graduation. Neither the ABA-Law Schools Admissions Council Official Guide to ABA Approved Law Schools nor the vast majority of law school advertising materials inform consumers about this reality. Meanwhile, tuition and graduate debt are on the rise, salaries are deflating and the legal market is increasingly more saturated. Calls for consumer protection, even if logically independent of these additional facts, are common sense for a profession with high ethical standards.

In response to public pressure, the section asserted that it would pass reforms to reduce the provision of misleading employment information. This would have prevented consumers from being led to believe that the basic employment rate was the legal employment rate. Instead, the section is taking steps that ensure that next year’s applicants will actually have even less information. The section reasons that this is a transition year, more information will be available in the future, and that the short-term loss of information quality is worth the section reasserting its accreditation authority. This reasoning is accompanied by a misplaced concern for whether the definitions used to categorize job data are adequately defined. In finalizing these steps, the section is breaching its responsibilities to the profession.

For years, the section has had the ability to share how many graduates were finding full-time legal positions from individual law schools. The section collects these data in its annual questionnaire, which asks schools to report each graduate’s employment status (employed, unemployed, pursuing another degree), employer type (law firm, government etc.), and other job characteristics such as whether a job requires bar passage or is full time.

One might ask why the section has never published job characteristics data in the Official Guide, or why law schools rarely share this information in their own materials. These are important questions. But the more pressing question is why the section is trying so hard to come up with justifications for not publishing the data for next year’s incoming class.

On Sept. 23, the section’s questionnaire committee will finalize the 2011 questionnaire, which asks about the class of 2010. Additional reforms are slated for 2012. If nothing changes, the section will collect fewer job characteristics data than it has collected in prior years. Apparently, whether a job requires bar passage or only prefers a J.D., or whether a job is full- or part-time, are now too obscure to define without many more meetings. These definitions have been developed by the National Association for Law Placement and have been integrated into the questionnaire for many years. While not perfect, the definitions adequately meet consumer needs. Changes will always be necessary to reflect law school practices and market shifts, but feigning lack of consensus over commonly accepted terms should trouble even the most optimistic observer.

It is odd that, under the auspice of improving information, the section is actively reducing the amount of useful information available this year. This move will have ramifications beyond the questionnaire. Among the schools that report these important statistics on their Web sites and to U.S. News & World Report, some will jump at the chance not to share how well (or how poorly) the class of 2010 fared in finding legal jobs. These schools can hold up the section’s misplaced skepticism as their justification. Prospective law students deserve more from the law schools, but they can’t get it just by asking nicely.

If the section is truly interested in fulfilling its obligations to the legal profession and as an accrediting agency, it needs to consider whether a do-nothing policy is the appropriate course of action given the events of the past two years. The stakes are too high for the section to hide behind imagined concerns and continue to let law schools pull the wool over prospective law students’ eyes.

Law School Transparency Petition

Over the last few years, the range of voices in support of more law school transparency has grown as more members of the legal profession become aware of what is going on. We have seen U.S. Senators, state bar presidents, judges, and practitioners asking more from legal educators. However, law school faculty have been by and large missing from public discussion, despite the fact that from their ranks come nearly every law school dean, a majority of committee members within the Section of Legal Education, and many of the policies that have gotten us into this mess. Although there have been a few notable exceptions, including Bill Henderson, Andrew Morriss, and Brian Tamanaha, the absence of faculty involvement is part of the reason the Section of Legal Education has been resistant to fulfill its duty to adequately inform prospective law students.

As a potential captured organization, the Section needs to hear if there are faculty who object to educating students who chose law school on an uninformed basis. Thankfully, people are starting to wake up and look more pointedly at taking proactive measures, both for ethical reasons and out of a desire to preserve and perhaps reimagine legal education as the discussion continues to evolve.

To this end, Law School Transparency has partnered with Professor Paul Campos to expand the consensus among the legal profession into the ranks of law school faculty. Professor Campos posted the following letter on his legal education blog:

We, the undersigned, believe it is imperative that all law schools provide prospective law school students with information that will allow them to accurately assess their prospects for finding appropriate employment within the legal profession upon graduation from the schools they are considering attending. We therefore call upon the American Bar Association to require all schools it has accredited to release clear, accurate, and reasonably comprehensive information regarding graduate employment, by for example implementing the proposals outlined in Part III of the Law School Transparency Project’s white paper “A Way Forward: Transparency at U.S. Law Schools” (http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1528862.), so that prospective students may obtain adequate information regarding their likely future employment prospects.

This letter is aimed at anybody with a stake in prospective law students making an informed decision. This includes law school faculty, members of the profession, students, and even American taxpayers.

If you would like to sign this letter, please send an email to lawschoolpetition@gmail.com with your name, law school name and graduation year (if applicable), and institutional affiliation (also if applicable). In the alternative, visit the LST Petition page to sign the petition through Facebook.

Coverage:
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