Florida Coastal Law School Still Undecided

The Ave Herald recently ran a story about Florida law schools’ bar passage rates. The story pointed out that “Ave Maria School of Law has . . . drawn some national attention recently by becoming the only law school in the United States to agree to provide detailed post-graduate information to a fledgling project that aims to provide better data on employment of law school graduates.”

More importantly one of The Ave Herald’s publishers, David Shnaider, attempted to contact non-respondent “Florida law schools and Catholic University of America for their reaction” to our initial request. To date, The Ave Herald reports that only one school responded to Mr. Schnaider’s request: Florida Coastal Law School.

Mr. Schnaider reports:

[Florida Coastal] said it would monitor the Law School Transparency project but had [sic] decided whether it would participate.

This week, LST will contact Ave Maria, American, Michigan, Vanderbilt, and Florida Coastal to see if any of these schools’ administrators have suggestions for the 2010 LST Standard Guidelines. In the meantime, we hope that other journalists investigate local schools like Mr. Shnaider has. It is very useful for us to know which schools are still undecided on whether to commit to LST’s Standard.

Initial Request Responses

Yesterday morning we revealed the 11 schools that responded to LST’s initial request in our preliminary report. We will provide a more detailed report soon, but in the meantime we thought it would be appropriate to provide readers with each school’s response.

These responses are unedited, except for removal of salutations, valedictions, and signature lines. We also redacted contact information embedded in the body of Michigan’s response.

American University Washington College of Law

Via email:

In response to your request below, American University Washington College of Law continues to take this matter under advisement and will not commit to providing the requested information about our recent graduates until receiving and reviewing the finalized guidelines in November.

Ave Maria School of Law

Ave Maria will respond by Thursday, September 16th.

Creighton University School of Law

Via email:

Thank you for your inquiry of July 12, 2010.

We support your goal of transparency but due to our small office size and resource restraints at a busy time of year, we regret we cannot participate this year. In addition, given the nature of our student body and the types of positions they accept, we are concerned that providing individual information, even without names, will allow individuals to be easily identified. Providing salary information for those students may cause a chilling effect for future students who do not want their salaries made public. When collecting salary information, we inform students that individual information is never publicly released – only aggregate information. We hope you understand our concerns.

We will reevaluate our participation in your project on a year to year basis.

Good luck with your endeavor.

Northwestern University School of Law

Thank you for your recent request for employment data on Northwestern Law JD and JD-MBA graduates.

We agree with the general mission of Law School Transparency. However, as I have stated elsewhere, we believe that the type of information you have requested, which in some cases is quite sensitive, is better collected and assembled by a more well-established organization – ideally for the purpose of creating an alternative ranking. For example, Forbes recently conducted a survey of law school alumni which asks for similar types of information. Forbes intends to use the survey results to create a new ranking of law schools based on these employment-related outcomes. We were happy to participate and assist them in this endeavor.

Santa Clara University Law School

Santa Clara declined our request via phone, citing privacy and compliance cost concerns. As far as we know, they still plan to provide a written response to outline their concerns.

University of Colorado Law School

Via email:

We have received your Law School Transparency (“LST”) letter and have read the explanation and reasoning behind your decision to establish LST. You have, indeed, identified a very real problem: the lack of reliable data for present and prospective students who want a clearer picture of a law school’s placement record. In light of the fact that not all employers (especially those in the public sector) are prepared to extend an offer of employment to a new graduate until that graduate has passed the bar exam, the at graduation figures reported to US News do not provide a clear picture of the employment market. The 9 months out figures provided to NALP in the February following graduation are the best we have, and even those are difficult to compile with accuracy.

Although we do agree with you about the nature of the problem, the additional data sets that might produce more robust information would be very difficult for us to collect. The collection of data for NALP, ABA, and U.S. News & World Report, is already an onerous task for a small staff. The most fundamental hurdle for any law school is the reluctance of recent graduates themselves to report their personal information to us even for the NALP survey. We already make numerous inquiries by phone and email, spending more staff time collecting and updating data than is justifiable. Even with that effort we do not get information from “the entire class.”

In any economy, but especially in the current economy, we are convinced that our limited resources must be spent helping our students and alumni get jobs, ride out deferrals, and stay motivated. Those responsibilities have increased greatly as a result of the tightened hiring market. When excellent graduates are frustrated and embarrassed by their inability to find satisfying employment after graduation, they are even more reluctant to provide us with the information requested on the NALP form and sometimes let us know they wish we would not keep after them for responses.

Recently, I have told our staff that if it comes down to meeting demands for assistance to students in their job searches or data collection, the latter must give way. Leaving aside the important issue of confidentiality, we hesitate to press another survey upon our recent graduates and to allocate precious staff time to the task of administering it, following up with our alumni, and compiling the responses.

In conclusion, while we agree wholeheartedly with the motivation that drives your desire to seek more data, there simply is no easy way to collect it.

University of Florida Levin College of Law

Via email:

The Center for Career Development at the Levin College of Law received your July 12, 2010, e-mail. We share your commitment to transparency and accuracy in how placement data is recorded and reported, and we appreciate the Law School Transparency Project’s encouragement of more discussion of this issue among law schools, law students, and the legal profession.

Our college follows the guidelines set by the American Bar Association, the Law School Admissions Council, and the National Association for Legal Career Professionals for reporting employment-related data. We agree that there are always other factors that could be considered and other methodologies that could be used in describing placement results, and we believe there is room for improvement in current methodologies. We plan to follow the above-mentioned guidelines in our reporting at this time, and we plan to participate in efforts to improve those guidelines.

University of Michigan Law School

Via email:

Thank you for your email. We share your interest in making sure that the best possible information is available to law school applicants about the career prospects of law graduates, and to that end, we distribute a great deal of information (on our website and in publications for admitted students) about the specific experiences of our students in the job market—far more than what is called for by the National Association for Law Placement, and even more than the new information you have mentioned. We work with our students and alumni, as well as other important constituencies, on an ongoing basis to be responsive to changing needs in this arena.

With specific regard to your request, as a public institution governed by the state of Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act, I must direct you to the University’s FOIA Office. The FOIA Office coordinates our responses to the many requests for data we receive. The relevant contact information is:

{redacted}

FOIA Coordinator

Freedom of Information Act Office

2025 Fleming Administration Building

Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109-1340

Phone: {redacted}

Fax: {redacted}

E-mail: {redacted}

{redacted} will contact the relevant law school administrators after she hears from you, and we will proceed accordingly. Please note that, as a general matter, we are not always able to provide all the information requested via FOIA. For example, we are obligated to remove any information that could lead to identifying specific individuals, out of consideration for their privacy. Please also be aware that some FOIA requests, depending on their complexity, result in a charge for the cost of compliance. {redacted} is the expert, however, and will be able to advise you about the process in detail.

We’ll be very happy to help in any way we can.

University of Tennessee College of Law

Via email:

The University of Tennessee College of Law‘s Admission, Financial Aid, and Career Center form one administrative unit designed to help prospective students analyze critical information such as cost of attendance, average indebtedness, career prospects, and starting salaries of graduates in order to determine return on investment in a legal education.

UT offers information to prospective students in a variety of methods, including:

Annual Graduate Employment and Salary Survey. UT’s Annual Graduate Survey provides comprehensive post-graduate employment and salary data by job setting, location, and size of firm. Available for each class since 1989, this longitudinal data allows for comparisons over time and across employment settings and locations. UT typically collects salary information for about 60% of its graduates and honors requests of students who prefer not to disclose salary data that they consider private and confidential.

“Be astute – Compare the numbers” campaign. UT sends a targeted mailing to prospects each fall disclosing key data points about UT (annual tuition and fees, average indebtedness, and range of graduate starting salaries) and encouraging prospects to gather similar information from other law schools.

Employment and Salary Data Online. UT posts aggregate graduate employment and salary information by job setting and location for recent classes on its web site. Specific information is provided on the sites for prospective students and admitted candidates drawing their attention to this information and inviting them to discuss career issues with Career Center staff.

Career Information Visible in Recruitment Materials. Employment and salary information on the most recent graduate class is prominent in the admissions view book, The Tennessee Advantage, and in the At a Glance class profile.

Job Market Update presentation to students each fall. This workshop and presentation compares UT graduate employment with national law graduate employment outcomes based on NALP’s national annual report, JOBS & JDs. This data is also integrated into presentations and reports to prospective students and alumni audiences, and the PowerPoint presentation is available as a link from the Prospective Student and Career Center web sites.

RATIONALE FOR DECLINING PARTICIPATION IN SURVEY

The College of Law believes that if it exposed individual salaries of graduates and specific salaries offered by employers, UT’s actions would actually inhibit the collection and reporting of salary information by both students and employers.

The employment profile of UT graduates is very similar to the national employment profile reported by NALP, with the most common employment settings for post-graduate employment being private practice and government. The most common single job setting for UT graduates each year is law firms with 25 attorneys or fewer. Generally, a law firm hires only one student from the graduating class. If an employer’s name and starting salary were to be listed, it would be virtually impossible to maintain any type of confidentiality for the graduate.

Additionally, employers are not obligated to establish a common starting salary, and increasingly they may negotiate salaries with individuals as they are hired. If an employer hired individuals within the same class but at different salary levels, disclosure of salary by employer name would place UT in a position to reveal information that is otherwise confidential between students and their employers. The Career Center requests, but does not require, its graduates to disclose personally-negotiated salary data that is not commonly known and announced by the employer. But this disclosure is made with the understanding that individual salary data will be kept in strict confidence and only reported in the aggregate. A change in this expectation would likely have a chilling effect on the rate of reporting and thereby diminish the amount of available data.

Vanderbilt University Law School

Via email:

Vanderbilt will report, as usual, all employment data for the Class of 2010 which does not identify particular students and is consistent with what is reported to both the ABA and NALP. This information derives from the Graduation Employment Report which students are asked to complete but often do not, for various reasons, and from conversations and emails from our students.

If the final list of requested information includes data that we have not been collecting, we will have to determine whether reporting this information would create problems of confidentiality or an unmanageable workload for our staff.

William Mitchell College of Law

Via email:

Thank you for your letter requesting our participation in Law School Transparency. We respectfully decline the invitation.

Like you, we take seriously the sharing of data and information that students need to make well-informed decisions about law school. We strive to be complete and thorough when publishing and reporting this data and when responding to inquiries from prospective students.

Should there be further developments in your project, please do not hesitate to let us know about them.

Last Friday only marked the conclusion of Law School Transparency’s initial request. Many schools did not respond by the initial deadline but may still wish to weigh in on the matter. As such, we are in the process of encouraging more schools to respond and will post the schools’ official responses as they come in.

Preliminary Report on LST’s Initial Request

As of September 10, 2010, LST's initial response period - during which we asked schools to commit to disclosing more employment information under a new standard - has closed. We wish to thank all the law school representatives who took the time to consider our initial request. In order to succeed, this initiative must be an ongoing collaboration between current students, employers, law school administrators, graduates, faculty, and prospective law students. We have been working steadily throughout the response period to formulate LST’s next steps based on this collaboration. This report summarizes the results of LST's initial request to 199 ABA-approved and provisionally approved law schools.

Results Summary
Of the 199 law schools we asked to commit to our new standard, 11 (5.5%) responded before the close of our 60-day response period. We will follow up with the other 188 law schools in the next month. For now, the respondents were:
See the rest of the report 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.