Quick Update

We just wanted to provide our readers a quick update on what we’re currently up to.

LST’s Official Request
After disseminating our white paper, discussing our project with a number of law school administrators over the last couple of months, and engaging some major players, we have finally set our sights on Monday, July 12th as the date of our official request.

In a little over a week, LST will submit our official request to every ABA-approved and provisionally-approved law school. The immediate request will not be for data; instead, we will ask each school to commit to releasing Class of 2010 lists compliant with our standard. Schools will be asked to collect and report the requested data to LST in February 2011, following procedures similar to those used by the ABA, NALP, and U.S. News.

Schools will have 60 days from delivery to respond to our request. At the close of the 60-day window, September 10th, we will survey the responses and report preliminary results on this website. During the time between September and February, we will engage law school administrators to understand the choices they’ve made. We will continually encourage all of you to directly contact schools to rally their participation.

LST Standard
Thanks to concerns raised by some commenters, we have added a new component to the Job List: Salary Source. A forthcoming post will explain this decision in full detail.

Tennessee Judicial Conference
We had a great opportunity to talk about our work at this year’s Tennessee Judicial Conference. After co-founder Patrick Lynch presented our plan to reform the employment reporting standard, he participated in a panel discussion led by Judge Randy Kennedy, along with Justice William Koch of the state Supreme Court, 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.

It was a great chance to learn what leaders in the legal community consider some of the most important issues facing lawyers today. At the top of the list was how to mentor and train the increasing number of debt-ridden lawyers entering the market each year. They also discussed how to encourage new lawyers to serve underrepresented communities in Tennessee, which goes to how schools pitch their programs to the 50,000 new law students each year. We look forward to seeing how our solution addresses the problems members of the Bench and Bar identified. As always, please let us know if you know about discussions like these taking place elsewhere around the country.

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.

ABA Journal Podcast Discussion on Transparency

Stephanie Francis Ward from the ABA Journal leads the discussion entitled, “Lowering the Stakes: How Law Schools Can Help Next Gen Lawyers Take Gamble Out of Hefty Tuition.” The panel features Santa Clara Law Dean Donald Polden (and chair of the Standards Review Committee of the ABA’s Section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar), Northwestern Law Dean David Van Zandt, and LST Co-Founder Kyle P. McEntee. You can listen to the full podcast here.

We will post a short summary soon.

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.

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.