California Bar President Favors More Transparency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Way Forward

Update: We have submitted our article to a number of law reviews and posted a working draft to SSRN. The article will hopefully spark some discussion in academia as we move forward to implement our new standard. Please send us your comments.

A Way Forward: Improving Transparency in Employment Reporting at American Law Schools
The decision to attend law school in the 21st century requires an increasingly significant financial investment, yet very little information about the value of a legal education is available for prospective law students. Prospectives use various tools provided by schools and third parties while seeking to make an informed decision about which law school to attend. This Article surveys the available information with respect to one important segment of the value analysis: post-graduation employment outcomes.

One of the most pressing issues with current access to information is the ability to hide outcomes in aggregate statistical forms. Just about every tool enables this behavior, which, while misleading, often complies with the current ABA and U.S. News reporting standards. In this Article, we propose a new standard for employment reporting grounded in compromise. Our hope is that this standard enables prospectives to take a detailed, holistic look at the diverse employment options from different law schools. In time, improved transparency at American law institutions can produce generations of lawyers who were better informed about the range of jobs obtainable with a law degree.

Progress Update

About 9 months ago, we planned to immediately request employment data and information from law schools. In the interest of our long term goals, however, we decided it would be best to wait. We instead chose to focus our energy on producing a scholarly article that explains why prospective law students should consider themselves uninformed and provides one solution that balances the interests of prospectives against other stakeholders like graduates, law schools, employers, and the legal community as a whole. Our solution is a market-based solution that we will implement via Law School Transparency.

Within the next few weeks, we will make our working paper available via SSRN. We will keep you all posted as to our information requests. In the mean time, please keep emailing us with information you find. It has proven helpful.