Progress Towards Law School Transparency

We have a few updates on our progress towards greater law school transparency. The first is a rundown of voluntary website improvements made by law schools in advance of the ABA standards reform. The second is to announce that LST has obtained its 40th NALP report from an ABA-approved law school.

Transparency Index: Class of 2010

Back in January, we released the Transparency Index, an index of every ABA-approved law school website. It measures how transparent law schools are on their websites in detailing post-graduation outcomes for the class of 2010 through the lens of 19 criteria.

We said:

Taken together, these and other findings illustrate how law schools have been slow to react to calls for disclosure, with some schools conjuring ways to repackage employment data to maintain their images. Our findings play into a larger dialogue about law schools and their continued secrecy against a backdrop of stories about admissions data fraud, class action lawsuits, and ever-rising education costs. These findings raise a red flag as to whether schools are capable of making needed changes to the current, unsustainable law school model without being compelled to through government oversight or other external forces.

There is good, bad, and disappointing news. The bad news is that secrecy is still the norm, with schools still opting to selectively withhold class of 2010 information to suit their own interests (and to the possible detriment of prospective students). With this year’s admissions cycle well underway, and admitted students closing in on their final decisions, people could really use the critical information schools have at their fingertips. While we can place some responsibility at the feet of those who will knowingly choose to attend schools that are withholding critical information, their poor choices still stem from law schools’ bad acts, especially when it is clear that many prospective students still do not understand the extent of the gaps in information, which law schools have become so adept at hiding.

The good news is that we’ve seen been big improvements to a number of law school websites following the publication of our Winter 2012 Transparency Index Report. Further, these improvements are likely an underestimation: we’ve only updated the Live Index as we’ve come across evidence of improvements or have been directed to updates (usually by the schools themselves). As more and more schools respond positively to criticism, it is also getting easier to identify who the bad actors are.

  • 22% of schools do not provide evaluable class of 2010 information, up from 27%.
  • 64% of schools indicate how many graduates actually responded to their survey, up from 49%. Response rates provide applicants with a way to gauge the usefulness of survey results, a sort of back-of-the-envelope margin of error. Without the rate, schools can advertise employment rates north of 95% without explaining that the true employment rate is unknown, and likely lower.
  • 39% of law schools indicate how many graduates worked in legal jobs, up from 26%. 20% provide the full-time legal rate, up from 11%. We are aware of no additional schools providing the full-time, long-term employment rate. (It is still just two schools, or 1%.)
  • 28% of schools indicate how many graduates were employed in full-time vs. part-time jobs, up from 17%.
  • 16% indicate how many were employed in long-term vs. short-term jobs, up from 10%.
  • 16% of schools report how many graduates were employed in school-funded jobs, up from 10%.
  • 59% of schools provide at least some salary information, up from 49%. But the majority of the 59% of schools (63%) provide the information in ways that mislead the reader, down from 78%.

These are substantial changes. The schools who have made them (list available here) deserve some praise. However, it needs to be restated that every school could meet all 19 of the criteria we used in the Transparency Index, so our praise comes with that caveat.

The disappointing news is that one of the most transparent schools from our original report has decided to be less transparent. The University of Houston Law Center previously met thirteen criteria; it now meets only seven. (Original Disclosure; New Disclosure.)

In particular, Houston no longer shares the percentage of graduates in full-time and part-time jobs, in school-funded jobs, and in full-time legal jobs. It also no longer indicates when the graduates obtained the job (timing), nor how the graduate obtained the job (source). The school now also provides misleading salary information because the school no longer indicates the response rate for each salary figure provided.

When asked why they took such a huge step backwards, the dean of career services cited that Houston was now just doing what other schools were doing. She also claimed it was an improvement overall because it also included 2009 and 2008 employment data, although it is barely more than what’s already available in our data clearinghouse (2008 & 2009).

For the unacquainted, Houston copied the University of Chicago’s presentation standard, and in doing so actually decreased its level of disclosure. We criticized Chicago’s standard back in January for this particular reason:

Last month, the University of Chicago Law School received widespread acclaim for its decision to provide improved consumer information about the class of 2010. We believe Chicago received acclaim because the job outcomes for Chicago’s 2010 graduates appear to be strong relative to other law schools’ outcomes. The positive responses confused the unexpected quality of outcomes, which for Chicago graduates remained strong despite the retraction in attorney hiring, with actual quality of disclosure. Chicago coupled tabular data with language about the need for transparency, leading people to claim that Chicago has set the market. But if every law school disclosed employment data according to Chicago’s incomplete methodology, most would still continue to mislead prospective law students.

The Chicago methodology does not distinguish between full- and part-time jobs, between long- and short-term jobs, or whether positions are funded by the law school. Nor does it indicate the numerator for the salary figures. For Chicago, this is a relatively minor oversight because it collected salary data from 94% of employed graduates. But the further the response rate moves away from 100%, the more important it is that the rate be disclosed for every category that a school provides salary information for. Few, if any, other schools have a response rate above 90%.

Predictably, Chicago’s puffery about its dedication to transparency has done more harm than good.

LST Obtains Its 40th NALP Report

There remains reason to be optimistic, however. LST has obtained NALP reports from six more law schools since our original announcement.

This brings the total to 40 law schools. While such incremental improvements to transparency suggest a long road ahead, we do consider 40 a significant threshold. LST will continue advocating for law schools to share their class of 2010 reports and, when the time comes, officially request the class of 2011 NALP reports too. Accepted students who don’t want to wait until then can start contacting the schools to request the 2011 data, now that we have passed the February 15 reporting deadline. If you are successful in leveraging your acceptances to procure the data please consider sharing it with us and directly with other applicants on popular discussion board sites like TLS.

Class of 2010 NLJ 250 Statistics

The National Law Journal (NLJ) released its annual report last month on the law schools that send the most graduates to the 250 largest American law firms (NLJ 250). In this post we’ll answer a few basic questions about this important employment data. To our knowledge, this is the first Class of 2010 employment information publicly provided.

While this topic has received pretty extensive coverage, explaining the basic information available about post-graduation outcomes is necessary to understanding why the ABA must regulate law schools more strictly and extensively.

A significant segment of our readership includes prospective students seeking to understand a vast amount of hard-to-understand information that shortchanges those seeking to understand the various opportunities (and information about those opportunities) at different law schools across the United States. This is what the data clearinghouse does, and what we will keep doing for all employment information about the entry-level market.

What is the NLJ 250?

The NLJ 250 includes the 250 largest law firms headquartered in the United States. This is measured by the firm-reported annual average number of full-time and full-time equivalent attorneys working at the firm, in any office, in 2010. This does not include temporary or contract attorneys.

Where do the data come from?

The NLJ collects survey data from the law firms themselves, not the law schools. A significant percentage of all NLJ 250 firms responded to the survey about first-year hiring. (We have inquired with the NLJ as to the exact percentage and will update this post when the NLJ gets back to us.)

What do these numbers tell us?

Large firm placement percentage is an important, albeit imperfect, proxy for the number of graduates with access to the most competitive and highest paying jobs. The percentage, accordingly, tell us which schools most successfully place students in these highly sought-after jobs. Successful large firm placement is best analyzed by looking at multiple years worth of data.

What do these numbers not tell us?

First, self-selection controls all post-graduation outcomes. Nobody is coerced into a job they are offered (unless you consider debt pressure or other strong personal influences coercive), so these numbers do not provide more than a proxy for opportunities. Opportunities, after all, are prospective students’ real concern when analyzing employment information, and these rankings do not necessarily reflect a school’s ability to place students into NLJ 250 firms.

Many graduates, particularly at the top schools, choose to clerk after graduation instead of working for these law firms. While not all of these graduates would have secured employment at the NLJ 250 firms, many could have. For this reason, one popular technique used to understand a school’s placement ability is adding the percentage of graduates at NLJ 250 firms to the percentage of graduates clerking for Article III judges. This method is not perfect; read our white paper (beginning on page 28) for a more detailed explanation of the strengths and weaknesses of this technique.

Second, NLJ 250 firm jobs are not the only competitive, high-paying firm jobs. Boutique law firms are also very competitive, with some paying New York City market rates and above. Additionally, the NLJ 250 does not include large, prestigious internationally-based law firms with American offices.

Third, not all NLJ 250 firm jobs are equally competitive. Law firms from different regions and of differing caliber have varying preferences for the students from different law schools, including how far into the class they are willing to reach. That is, two schools that place an equal percentage of graduates in NLJ 250 firms may do so for reasons other than similar preferences among equally competitive NLJ 250 firms.

Fourth, the rankings include data only about the law schools that placed at least 10.57% of its entire class in the NLJ 250 firms. All other American law schools placed a lower, unknown percentage at NLJ 250 firms. The remaining schools likely range from 0% to 10.57%, and probably do not fall into a normal distribution.

If you have more questions, please feel free to email or reply this post. We will update this as needed.

2010 placement into NLJ 250 firms by law school

Rank School NLJ 250 Grads Total Grads % of Class
1 University of Chicago Law School 115 195 58.97%
2 Cornell Law School 112 192 58.33%
3 Columbia Law School 239 433 55.2%%
4 University of Pennsylvania Law School 145 272 53.31%
5 Harvard Law School* 287 577 49.74%
6 University of Virginia School of Law 175 374 46.79%
7 University of California, Berkeley School of Law 135 296 45.61%
8 Northwestern University School of Law 126 284 44.37%
9 New York University School of Law* 209 483 43.27%
10 University of Michigan Law School 158 372 42.47%
11 Stanford Law School 72 173 41.62%
12 Duke Law School 81 213 38.03%
13 Georgetown University Law Center 242 644 37.58%
14 University of California at Los Angeles School of Law 123 350 35.14%
15 Yale Law School* 67 198 33.84%
16 Boston College Law School 89 265 33.58%
17 Boston University School of Law 81 270 30%
18 Vanderbilt University Law School 62 208 29.81%
19 University of Southern California Gould School of Law 56 195 28.72%
20 University of Texas School of Law 101 379 26.65%
21 Fordham University School of Law* 123 479 25.68%
22 George Washington University Law School 127 513 24.76%
23 University of Notre Dame Law School 41 172 23.84%
24 Emory University School of Law 54 255 21.18%
25 Washington University in St. Louis School of Law 51 269 18.96%
26 University of Illinois College of Law 35 195 17.95%
27 Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law 42 259 16.22%
28 College of William and Mary Marshall-Wythe School of Law 33 214 15.42%
29 University of California, Davis School of Law 30 195 15.38%
30 Wake Forest University School of Law 25 166 15.06%
31 Howard University School of Law 20 133 15.04%
32 Georgia State University College of Law 22 162 13.58%
33 Seton Hall University School of Law 41 320 12.81%
34 Yeshiva University Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law 48 381 12.6%
35 University of California Hastings College of the Law 52 419 12.41%
36 University of Wisconsin Law School 31 252 12.3%
37 University of Iowa College of Law 24 197 12.18%
38 University of Maryland College of Law** 29 242 11.98%
39 University of Minnesota Law School 34 284 11.97%
40 Villanova University School of Law** 28 235 11.91%
41 University of North Carolina School of Law 28 237 11.81%
42 Ohio State University Michael E. Moritz College of Law 23 198 11.62%
42 University of Houston Law Center 33 284 11.62%
44 Tulane University Law School 29 252 11.51%
45 University of Georgia School of Law 25 218 11.47%
46 Temple University James E. Beasley School of Law 33 293 11.26%
47 Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark Law School 16 145 11.03%
48 Loyola University Chicago School of Law 29 266 10.9%
49 Rutgers School of Law-Newark 28 258 10.85%
50 Washington and Lee University School of Law 13 123 10.57%

* Graduate class size based on average of last three years.
** Graduate class size based on latest data in ABA/LSAC Official Guide to Law Schools.

Source: National Law Journal

Coming Soon: Class of 2010 Employment Data

It is just about that time of year when prospective students should be (but in most instances aren’t) able to access important information about employment outcomes for the most recent graduating class.

This week is the earliest that a law school can provide employment information under the current reporting regime. On February 15th, the employment outcomes for the Class of 2010 will freeze in time: No matter what a graduate is doing before or after February 15th, the employment data reflect only what he or she was doing on that date (the “Status Date”).

The Status Date is roughly nine months after most law students graduate. The nine-month rate is rooted in the idea that nine months is long enough after both graduation and bar passage to measure the employability of a school’s graduates. NALP, the ABA, and U.S. News all collect employment information each year using the same Status Date. LST, in our effort to establish a new standard that minimizes compliance costs, also uses the same Status Date.

However, each organization uses a different reporting timeline. And unfortunately for the many thousands of prospective law students facing pressure to select a program, disclosure comes only after significant delays that make the selection process even more difficult. This post aims to shed some light on how slowly information trickles down from the schools to the consumer.

The Status Quo

The following table shows the reporting and publishing dates used by each organization, as well as the type of information published.

Organization Reporting Date Publishing Date Information Type
LST Late February 2011 March 2011 School-specific
NALP Late February 2011 June 2011 Aggregate Only
ABA October 31, 2011 Summer 2012 School-specific
U.S. News December 1, 2011 March 2012 School-specific
Individual Law Schools February 15, 2011 Discretionary School-specific

For our part, the schools that have agreed to provide us with employment data will do so at the end of this month, shortly after they provide similar data to NALP. Unfortunately, very few schools have committed to providing LST with Class of 2010 employment data. This is certainly not ideal, but it was expected. Exposing the failure to cooperate or even engage in discussion raises serious questions about what schools have to hide, particularly once people realize that schools possess the data we seek.

How Things Can Change

Putting pressure on law schools to disclose Class of 2010 employment information now, rather than later, is both important and appropriate. By the middle of March, just about every ABA-approved law school will have reported Class of 2010 employment data to NALP. The NALP data underlie the information schools eventually choose to publish in their promotional materials. Our reasonable suggestion is that schools stop withholding information from the people who really need it.

Why focus the discussion on the NALP data? For starters, schools do a great job with reporting employment data to NALP. For the Class of 2009, NALP-reporting schools knew 96.5% of all graduates’ employment statuses, and had specific outcome data for at least 98.9% of those graduates. The wealth of data schools report to NALP cannot be understated, nor can its importance for prospective students trying to learn about employment outcomes.

NALP provides intricate breakdowns (more here) to convey information about the overall entry-level market for recent law school graduates, but does not permit comparisons between schools. Thankfully, these charts rely solely on school-reported data, which means each school is capable of providing the same charts on an individual basis.

With substantial data at their disposal in February/March, schools therefore have a choice about whether to accelerate and improve their own disclosure policies. Schools could provide meaningful, up-to-date employment information to prospectives at that time, but most do not. Some of these schools might not want to invest resources into timely disclosure. Others just might not care about informing prospectives about employment opportunities at all.

Fortunately, in June, each participating school receives NALP’s school-specific chart for its graduating class of 2010. Sometimes schools share a bit of this information, e.g., Washington & Lee, but we have yet to see a school share its NALP report or even come close to its level of detail. (If you know of a school that is in the practice of sharing its NALP reports, please contact us.)

Even if a school chooses not to improve the quality of that information, e.g., through LST Standard compliance or providing NALP-like reports, schools can still choose to more promptly provide prospective students with information in the same form as prior years. Some schools still have yet to provide Class of 2009 employment information (example 1 [no employment statistics provided], example 2 [no employment statistics provided], example 3 [most recent: Class of 2006]), to the frustration of many applicants. And many schools will not post Class of 2010 employment information until after members of the Class of 2014 submit their deposits.

This time lag is indefensible, but hope is not lost. Some schools plan to lead the charge against this time lag. Washington & Lee indicates on its website that the Class of 2010 employment statistics will be available in March 2011. The school confirmed this plan via email:

Thank you for your email. As we say on the website, we plan to make the 2010 data available in March.

Likewise, Michigan has indicated to us its plan to release information in a timely fashion:

We do indeed plan to put our 2010 NALP data up as soon as possible.

Even if the information schools currently share is not the quality we would like to see, sharing it sooner rather than later at least will enable those prospectives to see the most up-to-date information for a school. While no prospective should rely on a single year of information in making their decision – the entry-level market is sure to differ three years later – the extra year is an important piece of the puzzle.

LST’s objective is to make more transparent consumer information available for prospective students. This can be achieved on a number of levels. More prompt disclosure at least shows prospectives which schools are serious about helping them make informed decisions, and which pay only lip service. More schools may come forward with the NALP data as it becomes more obvious that the game is up, but for the time being it will be up to prospectives to make their concerns heard.

Second Official Request from Law School Transparency

LST is pleased to announce the second request to law schools for more comprehensive employment data. The email text is below. 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 2010 LST Standard Guidelines and our report on the initial request.

Dear Administrators and Deans,

We hope this email finds you well as you continue collecting employment data for the Class of 2010. This email constitutes Law School Transparency’s second request to comply with the LST Standard for the Class of 2010.

The 2010 LST Standard Guidelines (attached) explain how to comply with the LST Standard for the Class of 2010. Thanks to the advice of career services staff, we have made a few substantive changes. We have expanded the types of qualified degrees from only advanced degree programs to all degree programs. We have also added an opt-out exemption that addresses privacy concerns for individual graduates who do not want to have their employment data included on the Lists you report to LST.

We ask that you or a member of your staff take the time to review the attached documents and determine whether your school chooses to commit to disclosing data for the Class of 2010. If your school chooses to commit, we ask that you provide us with a written response indicating that commitment. If your school chooses not to commit at this time, we ask for a response detailing any concerns you have about the LST Standard. One law school (Ave Maria School of Law) has committed to disclosing Class of 2010 employment data, and we hope you will consider joining them in setting a new ethical standard for legal education.

As we described in our initial request, we designed the LST Standard to bridge the information gap between ABA approved law schools and the tens of thousands of prospective law students. Due to problems with the existing reporting standards, prospectives are unable to obtain the information they need to make informed risk assessments about the decision to attend law school. Our Standard seeks to organize and disclose the data you already collect from your graduates, and does not require collecting data about more graduates than those who typically respond to your requests. By disclosing this data under the LST Standard, you will increase the quality of employment information for prospective law students.

Since making the first request in July, LST has worked hard to publicize the need for law schools to reform the methods by which they disclose employment information. Many legal and mainstream journalists have covered the issue with interest, helping us reach a wider audience and convince more members of the legal profession that reform is necessary. Separate from and concurrent with this official request, LST is publishing a report to assist your office in determining whether to commit. The report documents the initial request, surveys the ensuing media coverage, and analyzes schools’ reasons for declining. We have attached an electronic version of the report to this email. Hard copies of this report will also be mailed to the prelaw advisors at 100 U.S. undergraduate institutions, who together assist roughly 40,000 law school applicants in choosing where to go each year.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.

Regards,

Kyle P. McEntee
Executive Director

Patrick J. Lynch
Policy Director

Law School Transparency is a Tennessee non-profit dedicated to encouraging and facilitating the transparent flow of law school employment information. LST and its administrators operate independently of any law schools, for-profit publications, or governmental bodies related to the legal market. This email was sent to the career services, admissions, and dean’s offices for every ABA approved and provisionally-approved law school. If you received this email in error, please let us know to whom we should direct our request.

2010 LST Standard Guidelines

As promised in our initial request and more recently, we have finalized the 2010 Guidelines.

The Guidelines explain how to comply with the LST Standard for the Class of 2010. Thanks to the advice of career services staff at multiple law schools, we have expanded the types of post-graduation degrees that qualify from advanced to all degree programs. We have also added an opt-out exemption that addresses privacy concerns for individual graduates who do not want to have their employment data included on the Lists you report to LST.

We expect to soon hear from American University, Washington College of Law. Back in September, they told LST:

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.

Tomorrow, Law School Transparency will make its second request of law schools to comply with the 2010 LST Standard.

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.