California Bar President Favors More Transparency

The president of the State Bar of California, Bill Hebert, recently advanced the discussion on law school transparency. In an address last week he highlighted recent developments in the movement and called for widespread change. He said:

The profession needs to require greater transparency in reporting by law schools. As a condition of ABA accreditation, law schools should be required, at a minimum, to comply with the [ABA Young Lawyers Division’s] Truth in Law School Education standards, if not even more rigorous reporting standards. In California, it might be time to consider imposing the same requirements on our state-accredited schools, so applicants can make informed choices.

As we wrote about last month, the YLD’s nonbinding resolution does not fully address the problems that applicants have in making informed choices. It is therefore encouraging to see Hebert suggest that the ABA should be doing more. While Hebert did not detail specific courses of action the state of California could take regarding state-accredited schools, revising the Admissions and Educational Standards is a possibility. When compared to the accreditation standards put forth by the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, California’s standards fall far short. Seeing as the ABA requirements themselves are inadequate at protecting applicants from misleading employment statistics, California‚Äôs introduction of a disclosure requirement would be an important step. It could also lead to similar consumer protections in other jurisdictions trying to address reform. And it could send a strong message to the ABA at a crucial time, as Dean Yellen’s Standard 509 Subcommittee continues drafting proposed changes to legal education’s lone consumer protection provision.

Taking Responsibility
The most important element of Hebert’s comments was to whom he assigned the responsibility for reform. He did not put the responsibility on individual law schools. Rather, the legal profession itself has the duty to make sure the country’s future lawyers know what they’re getting into. Hebert’s comments also push things further than other proposals to date. Hebert mentions the Young Lawyer Division’s recent resolution, but then goes on to suggest more rigorous measures.

By framing the solution in terms of what the profession should do, rather than pointing the finger at either law school deans or disgruntled graduates, Hebert is engaging members of the profession who genuinely care about these problems and want to do something about them. Increased transparency in the reporting of employment statistics is a necessary step to restoring the values of the profession. But reforms will only occur as influential leaders like Bill Hebert motivate their colleagues into action.

In the meantime, the opportunity still stands for those of you who are thinking of entering the legal profession and want to get involved. Schools recently submitted detailed employment data for Class of 2010 graduates to NALP, which means they have plenty of useful information at their fingertips. This is the perfect time for people to contact career services offices and request to see information on the Class of 2010.

If schools care about the welfare of future attorneys as much as the State Bar of California, they have the ability – right now – to get that information out to you. All you need to do is ask.

We’ll be reporting more in the coming weeks on new developments that are in the works. In the meantime, please let us know if you hear about schools taking the initiative to release Class of 2010 information.

A Note from Our Co-Founders

Dear Readers,

Thank you to everyone who has continued expressing support for increased transparency at ABA-approved law schools. This past week LST announced some important improvements that U.S. News will make regarding information disclosure. Building on the U.S. News lobbying efforts (which we began back in August), we then presented at the ABA Questionnaire Committee meeting down in Ft. Lauderdale, which was very productive. We will recap what happened at the meeting later this week. By continuing to focus the discussion on the need to repair the trust relationship between law schools and students, we are hopeful that meaningful improvements will eventually come about through the regulatory process.

LST plans to play an active role in participating in the reforms, but to do this we need to reexamine our organization’s resources. We are a small staff made up entirely of volunteers. This is a good thing. Unlike representatives from individual law schools, we don’t face the bureaucratic problems that exist within many institutions of higher education. As new members of the legal profession, we have worked hard to prove our dedication to solving these issues in a way that benefits both prospective law students and the legal profession in general. Thankfully, the legal media has largely spared us of the same criticism often levied against the ABA or individual law schools. We suspect that one of the reasons for this has been because we don’t really have a horse in the race, other than a serious dedication to following through with our goals.

That said, this week’s success at the ABA hearing has led us to realize that continued involvement with the ABA is necessary if we are to make sure that they continue in the right direction. Regulatory reform is slow, and there will be a number of opportunities for interested parties to sidetrack the ABA’s efforts. For our purposes, this means that we need to secure enough funds so that when we are invited to the table, we can afford to attend.

So far we have relied on the generosity of anonymous donors, but we are now considering additional methods of fundraising. We will continue to operate as a volunteer organization, relying on our dedicated staff members, advisory board, and the hundreds of people who have reached out to us with ideas over the last two years.

We are currently soliciting ideas about how we can raise the funds necessary to carry out LST’s mission. If you have a good one, let us know. One suggestion has been to ask for an “alternate class pledge” similar to what graduating students are asked to give by their law schools, where graduates who do not approve of how their own school presents employment information can make a pledge to LST instead. While this could increase some of the animosity between law schools and LST, it could also serve as a barometer for how many graduates are willing to pay to see something change, while simultaneously providing another incentive (though small) for schools to reevaluate their methods aside from any potential ABA reforms. We are by no means committed to this idea, so if you have an opinion on the matter please do not hesitate to express your concern or support.

We will be considering any and all fundraising suggestions over the next several weeks. Please send us your thoughts, or let us know if you (or someone you know) would be interested in making a donation.

All the Best,

Patrick J. Lynch, J.D.
Co-Founder and Policy Director
Law School Transparency

Kyle P. McEntee
Co-Founder and Executive Director
Law School Transparency

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.