Update: Exhibits for Class Action Press Call

Documents are attached below. In addition read LST’s statement here.

Breaking: 15 more ABA-approved law schools to be sued

Two law firms, Law Offices of David Anziska and Strauss Law PLLC, have announced their intention to jointly file class action lawsuits against 15 more U.S. law schools (full press release below). The law schools are located in seven states:

  • California: California Western School of Law, Southwestern Law School, and University of San Francisco School of Law (3)
  • Florida: Florida Coastal School of Law (1)
  • Illinois: Chicago-Kent College of Law, DePaul University College of Law, and John Marshall School of Law (3)
  • Maryland: University of Baltimore School of Law (1)
  • New York: Albany Law School, Brooklyn Law School, Hofstra Law School, Pace University School of Law, and St. John’s University School of Law (5)
  • Pennsylvania: Villanova University School of Law and Widener University School of Law (also has a campus in Delaware) (2)

These complaints will follow previous complaints filed against New York Law School, Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Michigan, and Thomas Jefferson School of Law in California.

With these lawsuits, nearly 10% of all ABA-approved law schools across eight states will be accused of tortiously misrepresenting job placement statistics and violating state consumer protection laws. As with the previous complaints, the relief sought will include tuition reimbursement, punitive damages, and injunctive relief such as mandatory auditing of employment data and cessation of false advertising tactics.

LST is a forward-looking organization focused on improving legal education through policy efforts, thus our interests do not adequately align with plaintiffs seeking to be made whole. As such, we will not be directly involved in filing and prosecuting these lawsuits. Nevertheless, we will join these law firms on a media call this afternoon because of the role that class action lawsuits can play in incentivizing change through highly visible impact litigation. We will help put these lawsuits in context for journalists unfamiliar with law school consumer information issues.

These cases will create more awareness among prospective law students that the employment statistics advertised by these law schools do not mean what prospectives tend to think they mean. It is our hope that these complaints, along with future claims made against other law schools, will help bring about broad social change by altering how law schools operate and by pressuring the ABA Section of Legal Education to fulfill its regulatory duties. In the meantime, LST will continue seeking ways to expand the debate about legal education reform and to help usher in a new approach to the recruitment and training of attorneys and judges.

Press Release

Post-Graduation Employment Rates at Fifteen Law Schools Questioned

October 5, 2011
New York, NY
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Law Offices of David Anziska and Strauss Law PLLC announced today that they are seeking to file class action complaints challenging the post-graduate employment rates reported by the following 15 schools:

1) Albany Law School, which reports rates of between 91% and 97%;
2) Brooklyn Law School, which reports rates of between 91% and 98%;
3) Hofstra Law School, which reports rates of between 94% and 97%;
4) Pace University School of Law, which reports rates of between 90% and 95%;
5) St. John’s University School of Law, which reports rates of between 88% and 96%;
6) Villanova University School of Law, which reports rates of between 93% and 98%;
7) Widener University School of Law, which reports rates of between 90% and 96%;
8) University of Baltimore School of Law, which reports rates of between 93% and 95%;
9) Florida Coastal School of Law, which reports rates of between 80% and 95%;
10) Chicago-Kent College of Law, which reports rates of between 90% and 97%
11) DePaul University School of Law, which reports rates of between 93% and 98%
12) John Marshall School of Law (Chicago), which reports rates of between 90% and 100%
13) California Western School of Law, which reports rates of between 90% and 93%;
14) Southwestern Law School, which reports rates of between 97% and 98%;
15) University of San Francisco School of Law, which reports rates of between 90% and 95% percent

The average debt load for 2009 graduates of these fifteen schools is $108,829.4. “The lawsuits against New York Law School and Thomas M. Cooley Law School are prompting many recent law school graduates with high debt loads and disappointing job prospects to question the employment rates reported by their schools” stated David Anziska. “The numbers reported by the schools just don’t comport with the reality of the legal job market. We hope that litigation, combined with pressure from regulators, applicants, students and alumni changes the way legal education is marketed and provides compensation to those who may have been mislead in the past.” he added.

Law Offices of David Anziska and Strauss Law PLLC are advising graduates of the above schools that they may have certain legal rights and should contact David Anziska at david@anziskalaw.com or visit www.anziskalaw.com to learn more.

Law Offices of David Anziska and Strauss Law PLLC will be hosting a media call to explain the current status of litigation regarding law schools’ post-graduate employment data and to address the nation-wide problem of high debt burden and low employment rates among recent graduates. Joining the firms on the call will be Kyle P. McEntee and Patrick J. Lynch from Law School Transparency, a Tennessee-based non-profit whose mission is to improve the quality and presentation of post-graduate employment data.

Potential admissions data fraud at Illinois


Paul Pless

The Chicago Tribune reported over the weekend that an admissions dean at University of Illinois College of Law has been put on leave pending the outcome of an investigation into the fraudulent reporting of admissions data on the Illinois website. While the data does not appear to have been submitted to the ABA Section of Legal Education, this would still violate Standard 509 because it covers all basic consumer information, not just information submitted to the Section.

Above the Law reports that the investigation will be conducted by Theodore Chung of Jones Day. NonTradLaw reports that the dean is Paul Pless. Confirming this suspicion, Mr. Pless’s profile has disappeared from the Illinois website.

According to Charles Cooper from NonTradLaw:

We need law schools, we need new lawyers, but we don’t need vast numbers of uninformed, indebted, and unhappy law grads. And inflated stats, to some extent, draw in applicants who have no place in law school. This has to stop, at this point, it’s got to stop sooner rather than later.

He is, of course, correct. We expect this to reignite the discussion about auditing all consumer data. While the task will be very difficult and costly for employment data, admissions data would be extremely cheap to audit if the Law School Admissions Council were to cooperate. All ABA-approved law schools are members. Representatives of LSAC have said that LSAC is not interested in auditing admissions data, despite presently having the capabilities to do so.

TJSL Representative Speaks Out About Class Action Suit

Despite news of Alaburda v. Thomas Jefferson School of Law breaking the day before the holiday weekend, the legal community has been abuzz about what the first class action suit filed against a law school for misleading consumer information means for TJSL, prospective law students, and the legal profession. This post looks at some of the responses thus far.

Many commenters have been debating the merits of this suit and whether the class will be certified. Others are wondering whether more lawsuits will follow in other states against other schools. And many commenters suggest that the ABA and/or U.S. News should be joined as defendants. Social media traffic to our website alone was substantial, suggesting that members of the legal profession are very interested in the case and may continue watching it closely.

Comments from the Parties

Ms. Alaburda’s attorney, Brian Procel, had this to say to Sara Randazzo when she first broke the story at the Daily Journal (subscription required):

This lawsuit is about ensuring that law schools are held to the same standard as other businesses and that they are not permitted to misrepresent information.

Ms. Randazzo also reports that:

Beth Kransberger, associate dean of student affairs at Thomas Jefferson, said the school has always “reported honestly and with integrity” when providing data to various agencies, including the American Bar Association and the National Association for Law Placement.

Ms. Kransberger then added:

A law degree remains an amazingly versatile degree, and that continues to be what drives us.

Ms. Kransberger made additional comments to Karen Sloan in the National Law Journal:

The school has always followed the guidelines established by the ABA. We’ve always been accurate in what we report, and we’ve always followed the system given to us by the ABA.

This lawsuit is very much about a larger debate. This is part of the debate about whether it’s practical to pursue a graduate degree in these difficult economic times.

The Reality of TJSL’s Comments

Ms. Kransberger’s comments about the ABA Section of Legal Education are not surprising, as they will represent a crucial part of TJSL’s substantive legal argument. In particular, the law school hopes to show that it has acted properly by responding truthfully to the ABA questionnaire and NALP survey each year.

This conflates two separate acts by TJSL: reporting and presenting employment data. Although false reporting would be problematic for TJSL for each cause of action, as they focus on misrepresentations, acts of concealment, and misleading statements, TJSL could have reported true data to the ABA, NALP, and U.S. News and Ms. Alaburda would not be precluded from recovering under any of the actions.

As we have continuously emphasized, the issue is how law schools present consumer information to the public, not only what they report to the ABA, NALP, and U.S. News. (Although truthful reporting may be an issue at some schools, especially in light of the Villanova Law scandal, many, many more law schools mislead prospective students, intentionally or unintentionally, with how they choose to present consumer information.)

Law schools deserve the brunt of the blame for the current lack of quality employment information, including the provision of misleading information, even though the ABA Section of Legal Education has a responsibility to regulate under its accreditation authority. It is worth noting, however, that the Section only has to act because schools do not voluntarily release the information prospective students need to make an informed investment. The responsibilities of law schools to prospectives and the profession are not absolved or delayed because the Section regulates law schools; nor does it matter that the Section is considering more careful regulations. The failure of the Section to monitor whether schools are behaving legally is an argument against the Section, not in favor of a particular law school.

These responsibilities are confirmed by Standard 509, the ABA’s (minimum) consumer information standard. Standard 509 is just one of the Section’s standards that law schools must meet to obtain and retain ABA approval. Compliance with this standard in particular is at the core of Ms. Kransberger’s claim that “[TJSL] has always followed the guidelines established by the ABA.”

Standard 509: Basic Consumer Information
(a) A law school shall publish basic consumer information. The information shall be published in a fair and accurate manner reflective of actual practice.

Interpretation 509-4
Standard 509 requires a law school fairly and accurately to report basic consumer information whenever and wherever that information is reported or published. A law school’s participation in the Council-designated publication referred to in Interpretation 509-2 and its provision of fair and accurate information for that book does not excuse a school from the obligation to report fairly and accurately all basic consumer information published in other places or for other purposes.

In addition to the Interpretation above, Interpretation 509-1 provides a list of what information is considered “basic.” Concerning employment information, only the “any job at all” employment rate and bar passage statistics are included in the list, leaving it up to the interpreter to determine whether the list is exhaustive or whether other basic employment information must also be reported in a fair and accurate manner. We think it does. Under Standard 509, for example, it is not explicitly stated that a law school must fairly and accurately report the number of graduates employed in a fulltime legal job. However, it would be absurd to think a law school can unfairly and inaccurately report the number of graduates employed in legal jobs should the school volunteer that information. It is in part due to the inadequacy of this list that we have pushed for a revision of Standard 509.

Grounding a defense against misrepresentation by pointing out that a school complies with an ineffective standard should fail, particularly if the school is arguably not even in compliance. If a law school is aware that the information it shares does not adequately explain its post-graduation outcomes and is aware that the information misleads consumers, the law school is open to an investigation and potential sanctions by the Accreditation Committee. The fact that no sanctions have yet been issued is only a sign that the ABA hasn’t received any complaints, which hardly makes TJSL unique. In an email response to LST last month, Consultant Bucky Askew informed us that during his tenure as Consultant to the Accreditation Committee (since December 2005) there has not been a single complaint filed against any law school alleging violations of Standard 509. You can read more about the complaint process and how to file a complaint against your law school here

Perhaps most telling is that even the ABA doesn’t seem to think that TJSL’s tactics are in compliance. The Subcommittee on Standard 509, charged with improving Standard 509, also asserts that the kind of behavior that TJSL engages in is in fact misleading. According to the subcommittee, “a school that touts median salary information, without appropriate qualifiers, is misleading prospective students.”

NYLS’s Deceptive Practices

We recently learned of an email sent to accepted students by William D. Perez, Assistant Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid for New York Law School. The email is a response to what Dean Perez considers to be misinformation about law schools in the media. In an effort to convince accepted students to reconsider NYLS, his email tries to balance out the discussion by sharing some positive facts about NYLS. You can view the entire email here (will appear in a lightbox).

Our issue is not that Dean Perez wants to allay fears about law school in general and NYLS in particular. Any school, especially one where the average debt for 2009 graduates borrowing was $119,437, should believe that its opportunities justify the cost of attendance and should share information that materially affects a prospective’s cost-benefit analysis. Our issue is that NYLS has not provided nearly enough information, either in Dean Perez’s email or in its publications, to support some of the claims made in this effort to recruit next year’s class. Next week, we will submit our concerns to Dean Perez and Dean Richard Matasar in the hopes they will act responsibly to resolve what is possibly a violation of accreditation Standard 509.

Dean Perez claims that “our graduates are getting jobs, earning money and able to repay their loans.” But available information demonstrates otherwise. At worst, Dean Perez has overstated this claim in a deceptive and irresponsible manner. At best, NYLS has failed to meaningfully portray the data he believes supports these propositions. We’ll begin by addressing the employment and salary information that NYLS provides to prospective law students, and then move on to discuss the (un)importance of loan default statistics.

Getting Jobs. Earning Money.

NYLS’s employment statistics webpage (“Statistics Page”) (source) is designed for prospective law students trying to answer questions about job opportunities at NYLS. But it takes specialized knowledge about the reporting process and access to third-party information to recognize that these numbers are misleading.

For starters, NYLS provides its nine-month employment rate (89.7%), the breakdown of its employed graduates (first table below), and some of their salaries (first and second tables below).

Salaries
Employer Type Percentage Range (Min-Max) Average
Private Practice 45.6% $28,000 – $160,000 $120,197
Coporate/Business 23.7% $50,000 – $96,000 $75,167
Government 8.2% $41,000 – $72,000 $56,054
Public Interest 16% n/a n/a
Judicial Clerkship 3.4% $42,000 – $58,200 $45,887
Academic 3.1% $40,000 – $45,000 $42,500

You might expect that this table reflects a breakdown of the 89.7% of its 440 graduates because this is the “employment rate for the Class of 2009″ as of February 15, 2010. This rate, although not unusual, is not what it seems. It’s actually an adjusted rate, which, until this year, U.S. News used for its rankings:

Employment Rate =
graduates known to be employed OR enrolled in FT degree program
+
25% of graduates whose employment status is unknown
total graduates – graduates who are unemployed and not seeking work

Based on Class of 2009 employment data submitted to U.S. News, we come to a rate of 89.6%. The result is off by .1% due to rounding error, but nevertheless confirms NYLS’s rate calculation. As such, the employer type breakdown reflects only 82.7% of the class, because those are the only graduates reporting an employer type.

Next we look at the salary information. Understanding the salary figures on this table requires understanding the size of the dataset. This is difficult based on what NYLS says about its size: “Approximately 20% of our 2009 graduates reported salary information.” There is no clarity about what the denominator is. It could be the entire graduating class (440), the number of graduates counted as employed using the adjusted rate (395, from the 89.7% rate), or the actual number of graduates with any job (364, from the 82.7% rate). We will assume that it uses 364 graduates as the denominator on the grounds that these are the only graduates who could be expected to report a salary.

From this, we know that the first table includes salaries for roughly 16% of the entire class (73 graduates). But we have no indication from the Statistics Page as to the distribution of graduates throughout employer types, other than knowing that zero graduates working public interest jobs reported a salary.

NYLS also breaks down the private practice employer type by the salaries attained. The below table breaks down the “Private Practice” row in the first table. Accordingly, this table reflects the job outcomes for 37.7% of the class, or 45.6% of the 82.7% of graduates who were employed.

Salaries
Law Firm Size Percentage Range (Min-Max) Average
501+ 20% $145,000 – $160,000 $159,500
251 – 500 6% $120,000 – $160,000 $155,000
101 – 250 4% $90,000 – $160,000 $136,667
51 – 100 4% $62,000 – $90,000 $81,750
26 – 50 3% $55,000 – $55,000 $55,000
11 – 25 11% $47,000 – $65,000 $57,000
2 – 10 51% $28,000 – $80,000 $54,583
Unknown 1% n/a n/a

The salaries are equally as problematic for this second table. Just as we cannot tell how many of those 73 graduates reporting a salary were in a particular employer type category, we cannot tell how many are working for law firms and represented in this table. Based on the distribution of salaries in the first table, at least 11 graduates were in categories other than private practice. This means that these salary figures by firm size represent at most 14% of the class when you combine all of the rows, though the number is assuredly smaller.

What does all of this mean? Although the Statistics Page includes a cautionary statement that only about 20% of graduates reported salaries, the information provided is still deceptive. It took numerous calculations and data from a third party to figure out how few graduates actually underlie these figures. Yet, when you read these tables, an unknowing prospective who is contacted by Dean Perez and told that “[NYLS] graduates are getting jobs, earning money and able to repay their loans” will see large salaries that can reasonably be taken as evidence of this advertised, short-term solvency. The method NYLS employs to present salary statistics can be persuasive to the unknowing applicant, but it clearly does not reflect reality when, for example, the advertised $159,500 salary average for graduates employed at 501+ attorney law firms reflects the average for, at most, 7.5% of the class.

Dean Perez claims that graduates are earning money, even though the school only reports what one-fifth of the Class of 2009 was earning. If his office has information on the other four-fifths, it would be a good idea to share it when making such claims, rather than lead prospectives to think that the salary information provided is reflective of actual practice. And if NYLS does not possess salary data for the other 80% of the class, then the administration needs to review its recruiting policies and determine whether these statements are designed to mislead and/or have the effect of misleading the consumer. We think they do. When only 62% of the entire class is working in a bar-required position, there’s ample room to be skeptical of the claims made by Dean Perez.

Dean Perez also claims that New York Law School had more favorable or comparable employment statistics than [Hofstra, Buffalo, Touro, Albany, CUNY, Pace, Syracuse, Fordham, Cardozo, Saint John’s, and Brooklyn]. These are important claims that require adequate evidence, regardless of the economic climate and media attention. In the context of the email, this claim is especially troublesome because it seeks to sway applicants by stating that, despite all of the criticism, this particular law school really is a worthwhile investment. That may be true (and we will not make that call), but the school cannot simply prove its value by comparing itself to the other New York schools. No school can prove its value this way without first having sufficient transparency about the post-graduation employment outcomes of its own graduates.

[See our data clearinghouse to see if you agree that NYLS has “more favorable or comparable statistics” compared to these other New York schools: NYLS, Hofstra, Buffalo, Touro, Albany, CUNY, Pace, Syracuse, Fordham, Cardozo, Saint John’s, Brooklyn.]

Paying Back Loans

Loan default rates, contrary to Dean Perez’s assumption, do not indicate the value of a program. With the federal Income Based Repayment and Income Contingent Repayment plans, no individual with federal student loans should default. Defaults merely suggest poor advice by financial aid offices and/or poor self-discipline. A graduate can make minimum wage and have significantly-reduced monthly loan payments, thanks to these programs. Both programs have their downsides: interest accumulates and can cause debts to balloon over the life of the payment plan, and in certain scenarios the debtor will be taxed on the forgiven debt at the end of the repayment period. But they are programs designed to make sure that people don’t default. If the default rates are low, the school should be applauded for providing sound financial advice, but it is hardly evidence that NYLS graduates are by-and-large doing well, particularly when we only know the salaries for 20% of the class.

Misleading The Consumer

Selective presentation is deceptive. The manner in which NYLS portrays salaries and job outcomes, while not outright lying, deceives the reader into thinking she is more informed about the employment opportunities at NYLS than she really is. Despite NYLS possessing better information (and even reporting some of that information to U.S. News), the school has declined to share information on the Statistics Page that it knows would be valuable, such as the fact that 58.4% of all 2009 NYLS graduates were employed full-time, while 45.2% were working full-time, bar-required jobs. Omission of such important, value-adding information is so obvious that it suggests NYLS actually intends to deceive. Such a perception has enormous ramifications for how people view legal education in this country. This behavior is precisely why we are prompting reform.

Law schools are sophisticated suppliers of a service; they understand what consumers want to believe as truth, particularly consumers facing full tuition costs and six figures of debt. With no incentive to do otherwise, schools hide or otherwise misrepresent the data that might scare applicants away. And when the applicants get wind of it through exposure in the media, we see responses like that of Dean Perez. Absent tougher regulations that require improved disclosure while prohibiting claims like these from being made without factual support, some law schools in the United States will continue undermining the educational purpose they are supposed to serve.

Have a Complaint about Your School? How to File with the ABA

We have heard from many law school alumni and current students about problems they encountered regarding how their school reports post-graduation outcomes. Many have alleged intentional acts of deception on the part of their law schools, whether it’s regarding the reporting of their own employment information or the employment of their friends. At the same time, some commentators have accused the ABA Section of Legal Education of lax enforcement concerning violations of the accreditation standards. One way to encourage better enforcement (and better compliance) is to file an official complaint with the Section of Legal Education.

NOTE: We have requested more information from the Consultant on Legal Education, the Accreditation Committee Chair, and representatives of the Section of Legal Ed in Chicago. This post will be updated when we receive a response.

How to file a complaint

For starters, complaints are governed by Rules of Procedure. The complaint form (.doc) is available on this page, which also explains the complaint requirements and process.

A complaint should include a clear and concise description of the allegation and any evidence upon which the allegation is based (with any relevant supporting documentation). [Rule 24(d)3(i).] You must allege a violation of one or more of the accreditation standards, which you can read through here. The complaint must state the timeframe of the alleged lack of compliance (limited to one year from filing), a description of any steps taken to exhaust the law school’s grievance process, and any actions taken by the law school in response to the complaint. [Rule 24(d)3(ii) and (iii).] Any other channels being pursued by the complainant should be disclosed, including legal action. The complainant must also provide a release authorizing the Consultant’s Office to send a copy of the complaint to the dean of the law school.

Any person may bring a complaint alleging noncompliance with the standards; no other harm or damages need to be alleged. The filing of a complaint can lead to an investigation by the Consultant on Legal Education and sanctions by the Accreditation Committee or Council of Legal Education. Per Rule 16 of the Rules of Procedure, sanctions can include monetary penalties, refunds for part or all of the tuition and/or fees paid by students, censure (both private and public), publication of a corrective statement, remedial action, and probation. A school on probation is at risk of being removed from the list of approved law schools.

Allegations that a school has violated or is currently violating one or more standards are serious. Separate from official sanctions of the law school, culpable individuals may be asked to resign or terminated for cause by their school. A school’s reputation may be damaged even if sanctions don’t ultimately rise to the most serious levels. For these reasons we ask that you consider whether the evidence you have is strong enough to warrant an investigation by the ABA. A suspicion that your employment status was misreported, for example, may not be enough without supporting documentation.

You should first contact the school to request that they cease violating the standard prior to filing a complaint with the ABA. An exception to pursuing this route is if you wish to file anonymously, in which case see the discussion below about site evaluation comments.

What actions might qualify as non-compliance?

Of the 52 accreditation standards that currently regulate law school behavior, only one (Standard 509, found in Chapter 5) deals with employment reporting. The seven interpretations of Standard 509, as with all interpretations, carry the same force as the standard itself. This consumer protection standard requires schools to publish certain “basic consumer information” in a “fair and accurate manner reflective of actual practice.” While the accompanying Interpretations only list “employment rates and bar placement statistics” as basic, this list is not exhaustive. You can read more on the current employment reporting requirements here.

Complaints grouped under this standard might fall into two camps. The first are allegations that the school misreported the employment rates or bar placement statistics, focusing on the text of the Interpretation 509-1. Schools are required to report the employment status of each graduate as of February 15th for the second-most recent graduating class on the annual questionnaire.

If you have reason to believe that you or members of your class were miscounted as of that date, despite having reported accurate employment data, and if you can support that belief with documentation such as emails or surveys, then you should consider notifying the school and filing a complaint. Depending on the allegation, this could take sophisticated coordination. You likely need to document a sizable percentage of your classmates’ post-graduation outcomes to show that the reported percentages must have been wrong. For example, a sworn statement from 10% of your class stating they were unemployed as of February 15th would be good evidence that your school’s reported 95% employment is incorrect.

Many recent graduates have contacted us claiming that there was no way the school reported the results of their class accurately. However, it is important to first understand the reporting requirements to see whether the school was just following protocol, as the standards themselves make it very easy to legitimately hide individual outcomes. You may not think that a part-time job waiting tables should qualify you as employed, but it is appropriate under current reporting standards. A violation under Standard 509 would be if the school counted you as employed full-time, or in a JD-preferred or bar admission-required job to U.S. News.

The second camp of violations would be allegations that the basic consumer information provided on a law school’s website or in promotional brochures to law school applicants is misleading and therefore not presented in a “fair or accurate manner reflective of actual practice.” Supporting documentation would necessarily include the publications, and you should describe why they are not reflective of actual practice.

Not willing to file yourself?

One of the Section of Legal Education’s requirements is that complaints will be closed if they are made anonymously, unless the Consultant determines that there are extraordinary circumstances for keeping someone’s identity secret from the school. We understand that graduates may be reluctant to allege noncompliance on behalf of their schools, and that there may be other situations (for example, employees of the school) where someone might be discouraged from whistleblowing if their name will be dragged through the process.

[We have contacted the Consultant for more information on what has counted in the past as extraordinary circumstances, and will update this post when we hear back.]

Some of the complaint procedures may discourage you from filing. For one thing, a complainant has no right within the rules to appeal a decision to close the complaint by the Consultant’s office. A complainant also will not be informed about the proceedings or given access to view the school’s response if one is requested by the Consultant. If the complaint is eventually presented to the Accreditation Committee, there is no appeal process if the Committee sides with the school. And regardless of the outcome, a complainant will only be notified about the stage at which the matter was resolved. From what we can tell all proceedings are closed to the public.

If you have evidence that a school has been in noncompliance and you believe your situation is an extraordinary circumstance, you can contact LST. We will work with you to determine whether the complaint is actionable, and, if appropriate, file the complaint ourselves. NOTE: This does not guarantee that we will file a complaint; it only means that we will review the information to decide if we want to file the complaint on your behalf.

Complaint alternatives

As an alternative to filing a complaint, you can also file a comment as part of the accreditation process. Each ABA-approved law school is recertified once every five years through a process that is taken very seriously by the administration. To conduct the accreditation, the Section of Legal Education sends a delegation of volunteers, often professors, administrators, and judges, to the school as a member of a site evaluation team. The team visits the school to collect facts and gather opinions, including thoughts of employees and students, so that the Accreditation Committee and Council of the Section of Legal Education can evaluate whether the school is in compliance with accreditation standards.

Comments must be submitted at least eight weeks prior to the next site visit, which are conducted during the school year. You can find a draft schedule for all visits up through 2014 on the ABA Section of Legal Education’s website.

Written comments related to current compliance with the Standards for the Approval of Law Schools may be submitted to the Consultant’s Office. The comments should be sent no later than eight weeks prior to the site visit’s beginning date. Comments should be sent to the Deputy Consultant on Legal Education to the American Bar Association, 321 N. Clark Street, Chicago, Illinois, 60654.

Seven law schools will be audited next fall: Arizona, Baylor, Chicago-Kent, Idaho, Missouri-Columbia, Ohio, and Temple. Another twenty are scheduled for next spring. These visits are an excellent time to ask the site evaluation teams to fulfill their responsibilities by taking a hard look at how a particular law school is educating and potentially misleading applicants.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact us. We plan to begin filing complaints soon.

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

Is a Stanford Degree Worth It?

This is an unusual question. And yet, some commenters are asking whether it makes sense to spend 225k+ on a Stanford J.D.

This is also a fair question. It is the question all prospective students should ask themselves before investing in a legal education. No school – not even Stanford – is above accountability. No school can simply claim that its degree programs are worth the tuition charged. Every school must support these claims with information, and that information must be fairly and accurately disclosed to the consumer.

It may turn out that the Stanford J.D. is worth more than they presently charge. This appears to be what those at Stanford believe. From the Stanford Daily:

The Law School will implement a more dramatic increase in tuition, room and board. [Board President Leslie Hume] explained that the school was “under-pricing” itself relative to its competitors. “There was a feeling that we were delivering a quality product equal to or better than our competitors, and yet our tuition costs less,” she said.

(Read Stanford Law Dean Larry Kramer’s clarification, where he explains that closing the tuition gap between Stanford and peer schools is due to a budget crunch and the school’s cost structure.)

The problem, as we have belabored, is that it is difficult to evaluate a degree’s value when a law school only provides information about entry-level jobs in the aggregate. While nobody would argue that a graduate’s first job is a complete measure of a J.D.’s earning power, it is a major consideration for prospective law students. These jobs mark the beginning of each graduate’s career trajectory; further, they provide at least some insight into the ability of graduates to begin repaying their debt. For many students, first job opportunities are at least as important as whether a program is offering an educational experience that is comparably better than those of other programs.

What is surprising for a top program is that Stanford does not provide up-to-date first job information on its website. The school does provide some employment information about the Class of 2006, Class of 2007, and Class of 2008. However, the Class of 2009 information – which has been available about a year – is missing. (Except a few, minimal facts.) Schools are also just about finished collecting Class of 2010 data, so we will keep an eye out to see whether Stanford joins a few other schools in making 2010 data public in a timely manner.

Perhaps Stanford’s administrators really do believe that they don’t have to answer, “Is a Stanford degree worth it?” We doubt they believe this, as it amounts to believing that prospective students don’t deserve to have the information they need to make informed decisions. The problem is that at least some people controlling tuition believe that the name on the degree, or even the J.D. itself, is enough information to justify its associated costs and to make an informed decision. And far more schools than Stanford act as if this is true. It demonstrates a disconnect between what schools consider relevant in terms of analyzing worth and what information prospectives need to make their own value assessment.

Nearly all ABA-approved law schools possess much more information about post-graduation outcomes than they share. But until they share it, prospectives should reasonably question why schools have chosen to maintain this information asymmetry, especially as schools keep choosing to increase tuition.

Related Coverage: Sewanee takes the lead, lowers tuition for its undergraduate students.

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.

Chicago employment list clarification

We need to clarify and correct comments we made to Above the Law and in our paper. We stated that, “[s]ince we first started this transparency project [in 2008], three law schools — Vandy, then Duke, and now Chicago — have begun publishing full employment lists for graduating classes.”

As it turns out, when The University of Chicago Law School published the Class of 2009 list in their Fall 2009 Alumni magazine, it was not the first time Chicago released this data to certain stakeholders. According to Marsha Ferziger Nagorsky, Assistant Dean for Communications and Lecturer in Law at The University of Chicago Law School, “for at least forty years [Chicago has] provided an annual list of our graduates and their employers – first in our student facebook (lists in the facebook dating back at least to 1970-71 are available in our library), and more recently in our alumni magazine.”

If any current students or Chicago faculty would like to find and share these lists, we are happy to redact and publish these lists for prospective students to see.

Thank you Dean Nagorsky for contacting us and informing us of our mistake. As we promised The University of Chicago Law School, we will fix this mistake in the forthcoming revision to our paper.

In her email, Dean Nagorsky also corrected the misimpression that we have led people to believe that this list was released by Chicago due to our efforts. We must clarify this point very clearly. We have been careful not to ascribe causality, though we do say that a tipster provided us Chicago’s list, which is accurate. And while we understand that Chicago did not change its disclosure methods because of our efforts, the fact that someone provided us with the list so that we could make it available to the public was the direct result of our efforts to improve transparency in employment reporting.

If any readers are aware of other schools that are in the practice of letting current students and/or alumni know where recent graduates end up working, we encourage you to let us know. Per our privacy policy and sensible deference, we will not reveal your identity. As always, we strive to make this important employment data available to all stakeholders, not just alumni and current students, even when it does not meet our standard.