Q&A at Concurring Opinions

Professor David Hoffman, from Temple Law School, asked us ten questions about Law School Transparency. (We learned to count from the Big 10, so we answered eleven.) He has posted our answers and some commentary over at Concurring Opinions.

Table of Contents

1. What’s the mission of LST? What are its main projects?
2. Do you regret going to law school? Why or why not?
3. Have you thought about the cost of the kind of transparency you think ought to be the norm?
4. Do law schools owe a different duty to potential students than do business schools, medical schools, dental schools, engineering schools, or plain vanilla PhD programs? If so, why? If not, have you looked at those entity’s data practices?
5. We often tell our students that a JD is a credential that strengthens marketability even for those students who don’t become lawyers. How can we best account for within-job career advancement in our statistics? For non-lawyer jobs that are satisfying? That is: not all non-law jobs are awful! How should we describe them?
6. Why haven’t your proposals been adopted by law schools? Why haven’t consumers actually demanded the kind of disclosures you’d like to see?
7. What is the most & least transparent law school with respect to job-outcome data? With respect to cost-tuition data?
8. Have you thought at all about how tuition and lawyer salaries might be affected by more openness about prices and outcomes?
9. What is one easy thing that law schools could do that would make the world better?
10. What is one hard thing that law schools could do that would make the world better?
11. Do you have any closing thoughts?

Answers

1. What’s the mission of LST? What are its main projects?

Law School Transparency is a Tennessee non-profit dedicated to encouraging and facilitating the transparent flow of consumer information. We are aiming to do more than just eliminate the provision of misleading information. We want prospectives to have the opportunity to make an informed decision to attend law school. Each project we’ve undertaken centers on this premise. Specifically, this means improving consumer information, increasing access to that information, and especially helping prospectives understand and use the available consumer information during their decision process.

The main problems with the current employment information can basically be boiled down to the current reporting standards, which count any job as employed. This is not inherently misleading and is to be expected when the common view is that a law degree opens up many doors. At the same time, tuition has risen and salaries and job opportunities at the top end have overshadowed the realities of what practicing law is like. Advertising materials put out by the law schools overemphasize these “top” jobs while declining to share information about the rest of a graduating class. What we have seen is really a combination of two distorted beliefs: the traditional belief that lawyering is a lucrative profession and the reasonable belief that jobs achieved post-law school are legal jobs. Law schools are also aware of these distortions, lending to an information asymmetry which schools have very few incentives to correct. In short, we have a recipe for trouble.
Continue reading Q&A at Concurring Opinions

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:
Above the Law
WSJ Law Blog
Prawfs Blawg

LST’s Proposal: The Job Outcome List and a National Salary Database

The 509 Subcommittee’s first draft proposal for a revised Standard 509 is a good start. But as we described in our analysis, the proposed revisions are only the first step towards greater transparency. The proposal does not go far enough to disaggregate the current employment information, resulting in a reporting standard that will still struggle to help match prospectives to the law schools that best meet their career objectives.

We have been working on our own proposal, separate from the LST Standard, for a few months now. We have discussed it with key people in the Section of Legal Education, law school administrators, and briefly with NALP’s Executive Director, Jim Leipold. It was born out of discussion at December’s Questionnaire Committee hearing. These conversations have helped shape The LST Proposal into a solution that meets the needs of all interested parties.

The LST Proposal

Our proposal can and should co-exist with the chart proposed by the 509 Subcommittee. Together, the proposals provide prospective students a quick overview of the employment opportunities at various schools while also allowing a more detailed, holistic view for those students who wish to delve deeper. We are hopeful that implementing the two proposals would result in more informed decisions and a more efficient allocation of students to the schools that best meet their career and educational objectives.

The LST Proposal has two core elements. First, each school would report graduate-level data about post-graduation employment outcomes on a “Job Outcome List.” For each graduate, schools would report, as applicable:

  • Employment status
  • Employer type
  • Full-time or part-time
  • Required credentials
  • Location
  • Whether the graduate received special funding
  • Job Source

[View the detailed categories on this chart]

These data are already reported to NALP by all but six ABA-approved law schools (St. Louis University, University of Kentucky, Columbia University, and the three law schools in Puerto Rico). The Job Outcome List would be publicly available.

Second, schools would report known salary data for each graduate. Schools also already report these data to NALP. However, unlike the data on the Job Outcome List, the salary data would not be publicly available. Instead, the Section of Legal Education would create a national database of salary data just like the database NALP already has and reports about in Jobs & J.D.s. The database would include all employment data contributed by law schools each year.

The result would be a public, national database of job outcomes and salaries that respects individual and employer privacy desires. Prospective students would use this database for a general idea of lawyer pay in certain locations for certain jobs, as well as an indicator of the short-term economic value recent graduates are attaining with each school’s J.D.

Mechanics of the National Database

Pairing a national salary database with school-by-school, disaggregated employment information would allow prospectives to understand entry-level salaries without identifying the compensation of any individual graduate. To do this, the database would provide salaries for small, though statistically significant, cross-sections of law school graduates. The cross-sections would be created by using the factors that many prospectives consider to be part of their career objectives: employer type, location, and key job characteristics.

For example, for the Class of 2009 graduates, the average starting salary of full-time bar-required jobs in Los Angeles at law firms with 51-100 attorneys was $97,287. The 10th, 25th, 50th, 75th, 90th salary percentiles are, respectively, $75,000, $80,000, $90,000, $95,000, and $145,000. In Atlanta, the average starting salary for the same category is $107,619, and the salaries percentiles are, respectively, $80,000, $90,000, $90,000, $130,000, and $145,000.

Under The LST Proposal, prospectives would be able to match these salaries to a school’s actual placement track record in different places in different jobs. Under the 509 Subcommittee’s current draft, if a school collects fewer than five salary data points for a particular category, schools report no salary information at all. Prospectives remain unaware of how graduates fared because the only information available is that Y graduates obtained jobs with 51-100 attorney law firms, with no indication of location or required job credentials.

In order to understand what these salary percentiles mean to a prospective student considering X school, each school must provide enough disaggregated information to allow prospectives to match outcomes to the national salary database. This connectivity is crucial to an operational national salary database. This is one function that the Job Outcome List would serve.

There are a few ways to design the database, and we are hopeful that the ABA, NALP, LST, and other interested parties can have open discussions about how to best execute this vision. Initially, it is our view that between one and five years of salary data, back-provided by NALP, can be aggregated to create a richer salary dataset. The number of years used would depend on the type of job and location, as salaries have shifted more or less for different cross-categories of employment outcomes. (E.g. New York City 501+ attorney firm salaries have remained relatively stable within at least the last three years.)

Additionally, it is our view that the narrowest salary picture should be provided whenever possible. If enough data exist for 51-100 attorney law firms in Atlanta, city-level figures should be available. If not, the database would provide the next narrowest regional dataset. These higher-level datasets might be Fulton County, Metro Atlanta, Georgia, the South Atlantic (DE, DC, FL, GA, MD, NC, SC, VA, WV), and the United States. The categories could also carve certain locations out of a larger geographical area. For example, one category might be 2-10 attorney law firms in Georgia minus Metro Atlanta. The possibilities hinge only on having large enough datasets. Regardless of whether the narrowest set is available, each higher-level dataset should be associable with each listed job outcome.

Other Advantages of the Employment Lists

The benefits of this proposal do not end with the addition of elaborate, privacy-respecting salary information to the marketplace. After all, the jobs graduates take are often based on more than salaries, so a proposal that aims to help match prospectives to their best fit cannot end with only salary information. To this end, the Job Outcome List will help prospectives understand the various kinds of jobs graduates take at particular law schools. Its components offer various insights into the entry-level market and how each school fits into that market.

Long-term Help

Focusing on a single year of data is dangerous, but an improved standard must start somewhere. The concern is certain to be more pronounced when there is more disaggregated information available for public consumption. The fear that prospectives will pay too much attention to the first year of new data, while grounded in reality, is but a consequence of improved transparency at law schools. The LST Proposal will be best after three or five years. At that point, prospectives would be more able to discern which schools can best meet their individual objectives. And that should be everybody’s goal.