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

Apathy For Applicants Continues: Ave Maria Backs Out

Ave Maria has informed Law School Transparency that the school will not be following through with its commitment to disclose employment data according to the LST Standard. Back in September, we received 11 responses to our initial request, including a few ‘maybes,’ but only one unmistakable ‘yes.’ We praised Ave Maria for being a leader among mostly silence.

Ave Maria had its critics at the time, but overall the school benefited from positive coverage in both the legal and popular press. According to the Wall Street Journal Law Blog, Ave Maria was “a lone beacon of light [that had] emerged from the darkness.”

We wrote:

Ave Maria’s decision to comply with the LST Standard has the potential to be a catalyst. Their decision to elevate the importance of their future students’ welfare raises the ethical bar. As the discussion moves forward and LST seeks commitments from more schools, Ave Maria’s position draws a line in the sand and allows the public (and particularly the media) to ask why other schools refuse to do the same thing.

The school’s leadership adamantly supported increased transparency because, as an Ave Maria administrator put it, “it is the right thing to do.” There were some concerns about salary privacy, but we were able to assure Ave Maria administrators that, where a firm or individual could be matched with a salary on the separate Salary List, the school could opt-out, provided the circumstances met certain conditions. This assurance sufficed to garner a commitment.

Ave Maria’s About-face


Eugune Milhizer, dean of
Ave Maria School of Law

Ave Maria’s dean, Eugene Milhizer, first decided that the school would not participate back in December. However, we were not informed about the school’s decision until 12 days ago, in response to us asking whether the school needed any help following the LST Standard Guidelines. We attempted to change the school’s decision and invited Dean Milhizer to a conference call. This past Friday, the career services director informed us that Dean Milhizer was not interested in discussing the issue further. We accordingly offered Ave Maria the opportunity to write an official statement for release with this post. Ave Maria declined further comment.

The people making the choices at Ave Maria might still think “the right thing to do” is to better inform prospectives about employment outcomes. However, the school does not want to act before the ABA opines on the issue, seeing as ABA reform is on the way. Part of Ave Maria’s concern is also that, if the school is the only one to comply with the LST Standard, it will not be useful to prospective students because they will not have anything with which to compare Ave Maria’s employment data.

The LST Standard – while important in setting an example for what is both adequately informative and cost-effective – has always been of secondary importance to our mission: encouraging and facilitating the flow of employment information. Quite simply, prospective law students are not adequately informed about job prospects from different law schools, and establishing the flow of timely, quality information will help. Whether prospectives begin making more informed decisions because schools share data with LST, because U.S. News decides to improve its methods, or because the ABA decides to act, we will be happy that prospectives’ law school decisions can be based on realistic views of the entry-level legal market.

As Ave Maria recognizes, part of the need for more granular data stems from prospectives’ difficulty in comparing schools in an effort to find which best meets their individual career objectives. But an equal part is simply understanding the post-graduation outcomes of a class of graduates. Prospectives need to know what happened to the entire class, not just the top performers.

Employment data would not be meaningless without other schools to compare with; it would just be less meaningful. We are certain that enough prospectives would both know what to do with employment data from even one school, and be appreciative of it.

Ave Maria is not alone in claiming this as the reason for not participating with our heightened reporting standard. This past Friday, as a result of a call from the Washington Post, American University also used this line of reasoning to justify its inaction:

Thank you for your message. In light of the ABA’s recent discussions regarding the employment data reported by law schools, and the possible changes that will be implemented in that area, we will continue to provide requested information to the ABA. Therefore, we respectfully decline to provide that data to LST.

But ABA Standard 509 is a minimum standard. Law schools are free to choose to report more employment information than required. Schools have the underlying data to provide adequate information about post-graduation outcomes. Every law school that does not exceed the annual reporting requirements has chosen not to be more transparent.

Every School’s Responsibility

When Ave Maria originally agreed to comply with the LST Standard, it admitted that the school was not in the practice of providing adequate employment information to prospective students. By waiting until the ABA dictates what Ave Maria must disclose, the school now acknowledges that it is willing to keep its prospective students in the dark.

Most law schools want to provide the minimum amount of employment information to prospective students. While all ABA-approved law schools provide employment information to the ABA (regulatory pressure), and almost all furnish U.S. News with additional information (market pressure), not all law schools share employment information on their websites or in their recruiting materials.

Ave Maria appears to want to settle for the new ABA minimum – whatever that will be. But the ABA Standards have failed to do their job for years now. There is no assurance that the new standards will be adequate, and it is all but guaranteed that new, additional, required information will not make it into the hands of consumers until after the next admissions cycle ends. While we remain cautiously optimistic about the ABA’s role in reform, prospectives still need better information in the meantime.

The ABA has a responsibility to provide leadership on this issue, but this does not remove or delay each individual school’s responsibilities. Schools have a professional responsibility, as the gateway to the legal profession, to prepare law students for a future in law. The preparatory obligation includes providing a meaningful education. This means creating an educational environment that prepares students for the successful practice of law, as well as teaching students what they can do to be productive and upstanding members of the profession and society. Beyond teaching the law (or how to think like a lawyer), schools should convey the imperative roles that ethics and trust play in the successful administration of justice. Students develop many habits and many impressions about how the profession regulates itself based on experiences in law school. When a school fails to do everything it realistically can do to provide a meaningful education about the law and profession, its graduates end up entering the legal profession less prepared for ethical practice.

The preparatory obligation also includes creating a meaningful window into the profession for prospectives deciding whether to attend law school. This means informing these consumers about things like program offerings, cost of attendance, and the job outcomes their graduates achieve post-graduation. Doing so would provide every prospective a fair chance to decide whether a particular school is the best match for their educational and career objectives. Unfortunately, many smart and capable students begin a career from which they will draw no real satisfaction, for which they will be poorly suited, and in which they will perform marginally because the practice of law is different from what they expected. The reasons for these problems are largely unsettled, and they likely have many blameworthy causes, but these problems have rightfully caused schools and the ABA to think deeply about what is going wrong.

There is a role for the ABA in reforming school disclosure policies, and it is a crucial role. But this role does not absolve schools of their own responsibilities.

The Consequences

The people who are most affected by Ave Maria’s choice to rescind are Ave Maria’s potential applicants. They are losing out on an opportunity to make an informed decision about attending Ave Maria. Now, they are left to rely on the Class of 2008 (not even 2009) statistics available on the school’s website, in our data clearinghouse, and in the ABA Official Guide.

While too many schools have likewise failed to provide Class of 2009 employment information on their websites, the lack of prompt, transparent Class of 2010 employment information will be particularly troublesome for prospective Ave Maria students.

The Class of 2010 marks the first class to graduate from Ave Maria since its move to Florida. Until May 2009, Ave Maria was located in Michigan. After some controversy, the school moved to Florida and resumed classes in August 2009. Because Ave Maria was a regional law school while in Michigan, it is reasonable to wonder how well the Class of 2010 did in the job market now that the school has moved to a state with little, if any, alumni network.

With yet another school deciding that its best interest is to continue keeping applicants in the dark, where does the profession go from here? The ABA must act on its responsibility to incorporate an effectual disclosure standard into accreditation. Nevertheless, it is always up to prospectives to request more information from the schools they apply to when they have questions. Most schools are hesitant to share quality employment information, but with enough pressure and persistence, prospectives can overcome law schools’ apathy towards their desire to make an informed decision. Schools need to believe that refusing to disclose better information will hamper their ability to recruit and continue operation.

We are starting to see a trend within legal education where people place a premium on disclosure. Transparent schools that take steps to better inform prospectives look good, while the schools choosing to withhold crucial information look bad. Ave Maria’s applicants will, contrary to expectations set by the school a few months ago, have the same limited access to employment data that other schools offer. Many of its applicants will be less than impressed with the school’s step backwards, but the real question is how many applicants at other schools are cluing in to what’s going on at American law schools.

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.

Law School Transparency Reports: The Second Request

This past July, LST requested that all ABA-approved law schools provide employment data to LST for public consumption. At that time, the vast majority of law schools declined to respond or comment. In November, we finalized our official guidelines and made a second request from all ABA-approved law schools. While schools still have time to respond to our request and potentially commit to the LST Standard in time for the first wave of data, we thought it was time to issue a report on where things currently stand. Once again, the vast majority of schools have declined to respond or comment. The responses from the schools that did choose to respond were much the same.

Initial Request Responses

Law School Stance Primary reason for declining
American University Maybe Waiting for finalized Guidelines to decide
Ave Maria Yes
Creighton University No Compliance costs are too great
Northwestern University No LST is not well-established
Santa Clara University No Compliance costs are too great
University of Colorado No Compliance costs are too great
University of Florida No Prefer other means of improving information
University of Michigan Maybe Should make open records request instead
University of Tennessee No Violates privacy of students and employers
Vanderbilt University Maybe Waiting to examine impact on privacy
William Mitchell No No reason provided

Second Request Responses

Law School Stance Primary reason for declining
Loyola University Chicago No “most of the same [reasons] as the other deans who have declined”
University of Kansas No “not in a position to participate at this time”
Duquesne University No Violates privacy of students
Nova Southeastern University No Compliance costs are too great
University of Louisville Maybe see below

University of Louisville’s response to our second request was of particular note.

Via email:

Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. I think we agree on the value of reporting employment data accurately. I think we also agree on some of the potential challenges with LST Standard compliance. At this point, the University of Louisville Law School can commit to reviewing our 2010 data with the LST Standard in mind. As we discussed, our challenges are going to be with salary determination, reporting, privacy and resources. Perhaps we can have another conversation after February 15. My goal, like yours, is to ensure that prospective consumers of law school education have complete and accurate information upon which to make a decision.

We will be following up with University of Louisville Law School next week. It’s good to see the school thinking critically about how they report information to prospective law students. Louisville is among the few schools in the recent months to act publicly on the notion that prospective students need more information to make informed decisions. We hope that Louisville and other schools promptly provide 2010 employment information after it is available.

In the meantime, if you are affiliated with a school that has yet to respond and you support the cause, we encourage you to contact the school’s administration. We’ve heard from a number of current and prospective students over the last month who are doing just that, so please check back as we report more on those initiatives.

Helping Future Generations of Lawyers

This post was written by Kyle McEntee and Patrick J. Lynch, and originally published on BeyondHearsay.com. Beyond Hearsay is a website designed by Kaplan PMBR Bar Review to provide a collection of stories written by current and former law school students about their experiences in law school and beyond.

In 2011, nearly 50,000 law students will begin to invest in their legal education, expecting to derive value from both the educational experience and the J.D. itself. For most of these students, the decision to attend law school requires a costly investment of time and money. Unfortunately, most will attend without an accurate idea of how well the school’s graduates tend to fare in the job market. Even for those in the know, accessing quality employment information is a difficult and frustrating process.

Despite oversight from the ABA, schools have enormous leeway in what employment information they share and in how they choose to portray it. Some prospective students will recognize the lack of useful, reliable information from the start and will still choose to attend, but many won’t realize an information asymmetry exists until after school begins. Law schools certainly don’t deserve the blame for the economic collapse or the transformation of the legal market that came with it, but they are responsible for how they portray information about job outcomes when recruiting new students.

Many students and graduates are discouraged and angry about a disclosure process they believe is unfair. Many are wondering whether law schools will ever address concerns about how they share knowledge about the realities of the legal job market. Schools have a duty to be more transparent, while the ABA has a duty to ensure that schools report employment information in a fair and accurate manner. And contrary to how the schools and the ABA currently execute these duties, prospective law students deserve this information at the beginning of the process, before they submit their applications. Convincing the schools and the ABA to educate prospective students earlier, and formulating a solution that is efficient and desirable, requires a lot of work. That’s where we come in.

Law School Transparency

Chances are that you—like us—can empathize with these 50,000 prospective law students, as well as the hundreds of thousands that will follow them in years to come. We founded our non-profit organization, Law School Transparency (LST), because of the difficulty that prospective students have with accessing and interpreting information about law school job prospects.

LST began as a small organization with a dedicated team of current law students. Unlike some of the more vocal critics of legal education, we didn’t start this project because we were upset with our decisions to attend law school or because the job market is terrible. LST was established because we wanted to improve the legal profession, and because we believed that this can be achieved on a number of levels by better informing applicants.

We know that a lot of research goes into justifying the time, debt, and opportunity costs of attending law school. Regardless of whether you applied because you wanted to work in the public sector, in private practice, or in a non-legal field, you were probably concerned about whether a law school’s reputation and placement ability could put you on the right path to achieving your goals. You probably also wanted to know the typical salaries for a school’s graduates and perhaps its niche placement tendencies.

But job opportunities differ (sometimes drastically so) depending on which law school one attends. Understanding these differences requires far more nuanced information than what schools or third parties currently provide. These differences are caused not only by the kinds of employers that hire from certain schools, but also by the tendency in most regions for employers to hire from within their own city or state. For prospective students who strive to take a detailed, holistic look at the diverse employment opportunities at different law schools, the available resources are inadequate and even misleading.

We know from our research that law schools already collect significantly more employment data than they report. Schools frequently overrepresent top graduates without providing information about the rest of the class, or show the starting salaries of a few respondents as if those are indicative of the entire class. To resolve these issues, the easiest solution is to simply disclose more of the data that schools already collect. Schools must do a better job with this if they want to fulfill their obligation to fairly and adequately inform prospective students about the nature of the legal profession and the opportunities within it. Regardless of the economic climate, prospective students should have better information when deciding whether to make the enormous investment in a law degree.

Improving Employment Information

All too often, a lack of useful employment information means that answering the question “what school is right for me?” leads to focusing on a school’s U.S. News ranking, rather than how a school can meet an individual’s educational and career objectives. Not surprisingly, many law school administrators agree with us that their programs should be compared based on the actual value offered rather than its ranking. What’s odd is that the same administrators decline to disclose the very information prospective students need in order to limit their reliance on U.S. News.

In response to this problem, we have aimed to improve employment information by calling for the reform of existing reporting standards. Thus far, administrators have not been willing to voluntarily reveal the true nature of the legal hiring market in response to our concerns (except at one school, which plans to disclose under the LST Standard next month). From the beginning, our strategy has been to raise the profile of this failure to adequately inform applicants. While schools have refused or simply ignored LST’s request, a growing consensus about the necessity of reform has shifted attention to the ABA, which can mandate reform of the reporting standards.

What You Can Do

Potential ABA regulations and LST-compliance aside, schools have to decide for themselves how important it is to give prospective law students a realistic view of the job market. For example, our school has been in the practice of releasing lists that account for nearly the entire graduating class since March 2008. These lists include each employer’s name and location, allowing Vanderbilt applicants to make more informed decisions about how well their career objectives might be met by investing in a J.D. A handful of schools do something similar, but they all have room to improve and should be taking a second look at what they can do.

You are in the position, as a current student or recent graduate, to let your school know whether you support more meaningful disclosure of job outcomes.

If you are a current student:
As part of your law school’s community, your involvement can directly influence what your school does to address these problems. You most likely pay the school a lot of money each semester, probably incurring non-dischargeable debt to do so. Schools depend on these tuition dollars to finance a large portion of the budget. As a current student, you are also involved with student leadership organizations, career services officers, and law school administrators. You likely know (or will come to know) which members of the administration are serious about addressing your concerns. Many of these people care deeply about how legal education operates, and your encouragement may help them enter this particular conversation. Student leadership groups in particular can play an integral role in petitioning the administration and shaping how the school recruits prospective law students. Finally, you will soon earn your J.D. and become an alumnus of the school. Law schools value whether graduates walk away feeling satisfied and willing to one day give back. Rest assured, your school will begin asking you to reinvest through donations soon after you graduate, if not before.

If you are a recent graduate:
Recent graduates have been through all of the above. You have also witnessed the challenges of the current legal market and perhaps experienced the consequences of unrealized expectations, even after accounting for the unpredictable market contraction. Some of you have also become involved in alumni or bar associations, where your role as a new member can be to encourage dialogue between more seasoned members of the profession and the administrators of your alma mater.

How to get involved
Regardless of where you are in your career, your knowledge and leverage mean that you can do something about the problem. Schools have refused to budge, offering up a number of excuses as to why change is not feasible. One approach would be to let your school know that claims about steep compliance costs prohibiting their ability to disclose information are unacceptable and misguided. After all, funding employment-outcome transparency is an appropriate use of school resources, particularly when funding depends heavily on tuition payments that were made in reliance on advertisements about employment outcomes. If a school’s budget cannot account for educating future students about essential information, then the dean is not doing his or her job.

You can also let your school know that failing to act could have a negative impact on its reputation. Organizations like U.S. News has come out in favor of efforts for law school transparency and called upon schools to release more information. At the same time, recent graduates who are upset with their alma maters are gaining ever-widening coverage in both the legal and mainstream media. In such a charged environment where the law schools themselves are the only ones not on board with reform, those schools who take it upon themselves to improve disclosure methods are going to stand out. The schools that do nothing risk being exposed to a range of embarrassing media reports or law suits.

A Way Forward

We are confident that administrators at a number of law schools are starting to see the way forward. But for the rest who still need to be convinced, they need to hear from people like you. As this semester of law school gets underway, or as you look back on your legal education, we hope you will think about these issues and get involved. Even if you do not wish to get involved directly with your school, you can still make a difference by letting us know if you have any ideas or concerns. One of the most rewarding parts of working on this project is the level of support we’ve seen from people across the legal profession. Our hope is that as things progress, more of you will find a way to join in the conversation and help restore some of the values of the profession.

Why Involve Admissions Offices?

This week LST sent out our second request for more transparent employment information to all ABA approved and provisionally approved law schools. As with our first request, recipients included the career services office, admissions office, and dean’s office at each school. From the request:

This email was sent to the career services, admissions, and dean’s offices for every ABA approved and provisionally-approved law school.

Multiple admissions offices have informed us that we submitted the request to them in error, and that they were forwarding our request to career services. While we appreciate that they have taken some action regarding the request, their confusion about who received the request calls for a closer look at our intentions. This post explains why we continue to seek the involvement of admissions offices in bringing about reform.

Admissions offices are the public face of the law school for prospective students, charged with providing information and answering questions about the school. Increasingly, these questions reflect a concern in the market that law schools are not fairly reporting the employment information supplied by their graduates. Beyond being insufficient, the information presented in school-based publications (whether on a website or in pamphlets) can also be misleading. Given this risk, admissions offices need to be involved in our request for data because of their role in packaging information and distributing it to consumers.

As a general matter, the decision to comply with the LST Standard should be a school-wide decision. All three offices we contacted play a role in collecting and reporting employment statistics. The dean’s office oversees the entire law school, including at least some resource allocations. Career services offices are charged with helping students find gainful employment and collecting and reporting employment data. Admissions offices often decide which information to present to prospective students, and how to do it. Each office is obligated to perform tasks concerning employment statistics, and potential changes to their obligations should be of interest.

Informing more departments about LST’s request also lessens the risk that the discussion stalls. We want schools to have an internal debate about the merits of the LST Standard, having already learned that there is at least some internal conflict about the desirability of complying with our standard. As we noted in our report, career services are claiming the costs of reporting data under the LST Standard preclude a commitment, even though the costs are minimal. One department should not be able to stall consideration without giving other departments a chance to weigh in.

Finally, admissions offices care about their ability to recruit the best students each year, and engaging in discussions about the LST Standard can assist them in their efforts. LST’s short-term goal is to create a market premium in the recruiting process that rewards first movers until we can implement a uniform standard across all schools. This market premium favors schools that are more transparent about their employment statistics and disfavors schools that may provide misleading information. (From personal experience, some current Vanderbilt students have given Vanderbilt a bump for their disclosure policies.) If a competitor school chooses to comply with the LST Standard, admissions offices will care to the extent that it impacts their ability to recruit prospectives. Even absent LST compliance, some schools do a much better job at disclosing information than others. As consumers continue to learn about the ways information can be misleading, they are more likely to gauge schools based on their level of transparency.

As LST continues to discuss the merits of the LST Standard with law school administrators, we encourage our readers to contact your respective schools to express your concerns or support. Prospective students have approached a number of schools to ask for their stance on improving disclosure, and more requests will only emphasize the need for schools to develop an official response.

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.

Law School Transparency Reports: The Initial Request

Law School Transparency is pleased to announce a report on our initial request to law schools for detailed employment data. 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 post. 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.

Read the executive summary after the jump »»

A Big Tent: With LST Compliance, Everyone Wins

LST recognizes that there is much more to the placement discussion than employment in the nation’s largest law firms and federal Article III clerkships. In fact, only 15-18% of 2009 graduates were employed by these firms or as Article III clerks. While many prospective law students want these jobs, other students want to attend law school because they want to work in a particular community or region, or because they want to pursue a particular career in a district attorney’s office or an environmental advocacy position for example. (An earlier post provided a more detailed discussion of niche placement.) Prospective students are interested in comparing these employment opportunities. It should be surprising, then, that the current reporting standards do not emphasize placement with the government, regional and local law firms, and state and local clerkships.

Every school—small or large, regional or national, new or old—has much to gain from engaging with LST. Prospective students want placement transparency and will be looking for it during the application process. Current and prospective students are paying attention. The media is paying attention. Other law schools are paying attention. Our white paper acknowledges typical “first-mover” problems, but any law school (and perhaps especially a regional school) has much to gain in the way of public notoriety and goodwill from prospective students. Ave Maria’s decision to be the first school to comply with our standard is a good example of this. After we announced this decision, the Wall Street Journal Law Blog called Ave Maria a “beacon of light [that] has emerged from the darkness.” In some quarters, law schools are taking it on the chin right now, and LST compliance is a good way to shift discourse into a more positive light.

Complying with the LST Standard allows law schools to be responsible and combat confusion and misinformation, and it provides them with the opportunity to speak openly about the available job information, prospectives’ career-related goals, and how the law school can specially serve these nuanced goals. The LST Standard is open and objective: it does not prioritize placement in one area over another, and it allows prospective students to interpret the placement information in light of their own interests and objectives. As such, both national and regional law schools have something to gain by complying with the LST Standard because prospectives’ career ambitions are nuanced and so are schools’ offerings.

Many prospective law students determine which school to attend by referring to the U.S. News rankings. Many prospectives use a school’s U.S. News rank as a rough proxy for its placement ability. Unfortunately, this rough proxy works best only for the top national law schools—the law schools that place best in the largest law firms and Article III courts. The problem with ordering schools on a national scale is that it deemphasizes the ability many schools have to place regionally (the very mission of many law schools). When prospectives make their decision to attend law school based on miniscule ranking differences that don’t reflect meaningful differences, they do a disservice to themselves, the school they attend, and the school that could have better served their career ambitions.

We have largely focused on the law schools and their role in our efforts to secure compliance commitments, but consideration of the relationship between schools and prospective students serves as a reminder that schools care about the composition of their entering class. Schools do not want to fill their classes with just anybody; schools would not otherwise offer scholarships, read applications, or spend money recruiting. In seeking to admit a particular caliber of students, schools invest in those students, hoping to train and graduate a successful group of alumni. Students and schools have an interest in finding a good match, and LST will be an independent data source for those prospective students, helping them to do a better job of identifying the schools most likely to prepare them to reach their individual career goals. After all, graduates who were informed about career prospects when they chose their law school are more likely to be happy, supportive alumni. They will be more inclined to donate time, money, and other resources like assisting other students in finding mentorships, internships, and post-graduation jobs.

Compliance with the LST Standard is a practical way for law schools to be open and honest with would-be attendees. Most of the eleven schools that responded to our initial request contended that compliance would not be easy. We have (here and here) and will continue to address these technical and practical concerns. Still, we think law schools owe employment-outcome transparency to prospective students, if not as a matter of law, then at least as a matter of fair dealing in accordance with professional and educational responsibility. Whether a school is interested in highlighting its ability to place graduates in niche markets, upholding values of openness and honesty in their relations with prospective students, spurring positive publicity, or attracting students who will be a good match and develop into supportive alumni, all law schools have something to gain by complying with the LST Standard. We have done the work to craft a uniform, comprehensive standard that meets the appropriate needs of prospective students and allows schools to be responsible and transparent when they hold themselves out to those students. It is our hope that all law schools will take the necessary action to bring themselves into compliance with the LST Standard.

Ave Maria Agrees to Disclose According to LST’s Standard

LST just received a phone call from Ave Maria School of Law. The School of Law has agreed to comply with our standard.

This email will confirm that Ave Maria School of Law has agreed to participate in the Transparency Project. We look forward to receiving more information from you on the reporting guidelines in November.