U.S. News Asks Law School Deans to go Beyond ABA Standards

Per Bob Morse’s blog, Morse Code:

U.S. News agrees with the efforts of Law School Transparency to improve employment information from law schools and make the data more widely available. We are also aware that the American Bar Association is studying changes to the standards that law schools must use when they report employment data for graduates. We agree that more still needs to be done by all parties. To that end, U.S. News Editor Brian Kelly reached out to law school deans in a letter mailed earlier this week.

The letter begins by focusing on how legal education is being perceived:

Dear Dean ___,

As you know, there have been some serious questions raised about the reliability of employment data reported by some schools of law to the American Bar Association and other sources. I write with some reluctance because it is not our role at U.S.News & World Report to be any sort of regulatory body over law schools or anyone else. We are a journalism company that gathers and analyzes information useful to our readers.

But I think we can all agree that it is not in anyone’s interest—especially that of prospective students—to have less than accurate data being put out by law schools. It’s creating a crisis of confidence in the law school sector that is unnecessary and we think could be easily fixed.

Specifically, employment after graduation is relevant data that prospective students and other consumers should be entitled to. Many graduate business schools are meticulous about collecting such data, even having it audited. The entire law school sector is perceived to be less than candid because it does not pursue a similar, disciplined approach to data collection and reporting.

We have encouraged Mr. Morse to provide more employment information to prospective law students. He has acknowledged our efforts in the past, and this week’s letter to the deans is a clear signal that he is making good on his word. U.S. News may not be the regulatory agency responsible for setting the disclosure standards, but its influence in altering law school behavior should not be understated. Regardless of whether or not law school deans will view U.S. News’s request as a form of antagonism (given their many criticisms of the U.S. News rankings, which are due out next week), there is no doubt that administrators are finding themselves in an increasingly difficult position.

Mr. Morse is correct to point out that the ABA is the entity in charge of setting the standards. The ABA Section of Legal Education’s Standards Review Committee, chaired by Dean Polden of Santa Clara Law School, is holding its next meeting on April 4 in Chicago. Our hopes are that the SRC is taking note of the recent comments by Mr. Morse and others, even as it prepares to announce proposed changes to the disclosure requirements.

Perhaps more importantly, Mr. Morse is also correct to call on law schools to go past the current industry standards and disclose more information for the benefit of their students. Schools that have withheld voluntary reporting under the guise of waiting around for ABA reform must revisit their policies and consider the ethical importance of moving beyond the status quo.

Read the full text of the letter after the jump:

U.S. News March 2011 Letter to Law School Deans »»

ABA’s Young Lawyers Division Adopts Transparency Resolution

The ABA Journal is reporting that the ABA’s Young Lawyers Division (YLD) voted to press for greater law school transparency. (View the resolution.) This is a positive development, but it is important to point out just what it really means for consumers.

Before diving into the text of the YLD’s resolution, it is worth revisiting where the law school transparency movement stands with the accrediting authority within the ABA Section of Legal Education, which operates independently from the rest of the ABA in its capacities.

Last year, Dean Donald Polden, Chair of the Standards Review Committee, appointed Dean David Yellen to chair a special subcommittee on Standard 509 (the “basic consumer information” standard). Dean Yellen has been working with his three-member committee to revise Standard 509. The timeline for approval by the Standards Review Committee is not set, but it will meet in both April and July. We expect that much of the work on the new standard will be completed by the second meeting, if not the first. This means that any proposed 509 revisions would be ready for public comment before August 2011.

Meanwhile, Dean Art Gaudio, Chair of the Questionnaire Committee, conducted a very thoughtful hearing this past December “to review and revise where appropriate the reporting of placement data by law schools.” Despite an invitation from Dean Gaudio, no YLD representatives attended the questionnaire hearing. The timeline for improving the annual questionnaire is unsettled, but it was clear from the hearing that the committee intends to resolve the questionnaire’s shortcomings sooner rather than later.

These two committees, along with the Accreditation Committee, are the most important in the Section of Legal Education. One committee sets the standards for accreditation, one collects data from law schools in light of accreditation needs and other considerations, and the third administers the accreditation process. If these three committees are going to regulate law schools successfully, the amount of cooperation among them, along with sound policy, will dictate the level of success.

The best way to understand what the YLD can do, and how useful each of its resolutions can be, is to understand how the YLD fits into the overall picture. The YLD may make recommendations to the ABA House of Delegates, which can adopt policy on behalf of the entire ABA. But because the accreditation arm of the ABA operates independently, a resolution on law school transparency is not binding authority. Any influence that such a resolution could have is a function of its substantive contributions and political prowess.

As we explain more thoroughly below, the YLD resolution does not add much substance to the ongoing discussions on law school transparency. Essentially, the “Truth in Law School Education” resolution is supposed to represent the concerns of young lawyers. The YLD will present the resolution at August’s ABA House of Delegates meeting. If adopted, it will also represent the concerns of the entire ABA.

But many of the recommendations are either too late or too abstract to have much impact on the Section of Legal Education, which is already well underway in the revision process. We can only hope that the ABA’s potential decision to adopt the YLD resolution in August can exact political pressure on the Section of Legal Education to improve disclosure policies at ABA approved law schools.

Last year, little was known about what the YLD intended to do. Now that the YLD has released its resolution, we can more clearly analyze how this will affect the flow of consumer information from schools to prospective students.

Predictably, the YLD has taken a principled stance on law school behavior, suggesting that schools need to change both what they report and how they report it. According to the YLD’s press release (provided in full below), “the proposal . . . is expected to be influential,” so the YLD certainly expects that the resolution will make change more likely. But as we explain below, the substance and timing of the YLD’s recommendations leave much to be desired.

The resolution urges six recommendations to various parties, including ABA-approved law schools and the Section of Legal Education. These recommendations are similar to many comments (Note: The ABA has changed its website and the documents are currently unavailable. This link points to the Google cache.) made at the questionnaire hearing in December.

Additional Employment Rates

BE IT RESOLVED, that the American Bar Association urges all ABA-Approved Law Schools to report employment data in a manner that accurately reflects whether graduates obtain full- or part-time employment within the legal profession, both in the private and public sector, or employment in alternative professions, as well as whether such employment is permanent or temporary.

To people who have not spoken with career services deans about the difficulties in categorizing employment outcomes, the YLD’s recommendation may sound robust. But it lacks clear definitions and structure. Such a simplistic set of terms provides little guidance. What qualifies as a job within the legal profession? Is it a job that requires bar passage? What about international legal jobs or other jobs that are arguably “legal” but simply prefer a J.D.? What if the job requires a J.D. but not bar passage? What characteristics determine whether a job is temporary or permanent? Are clerkships temporary, seeing as most are year-long appointments? Are contract attorneys temporary, even though their positions are likely with legal temp agencies, which may be considered permanent even though the individual projects are not? Is a job at McDonald’s as a manager temporary? Should a job be considered temporary based on whether a student affirmatively answers that “I intend to find another job within X months (or as soon as possible)?” Should schools use NALP’s definitions and policies?

Many of these questions would be resolved through the adoption of a more rigorous disclosure standard, such as the one we proposed. There are also problems with the structure of aggregate reporting rates, which the YLD does not address. For these rates, what will be the denominator for these employment categories? Will it be all graduates or just employed graduates, or just employed graduates for whom the employer type is known? Should schools count those pursuing graduate degrees towards the denominator? Does it matter for the denominator whether a graduate is unemployed and not seeking employment?

This resolution raises more questions than it answers. Without answering the above definitional and structural questions, this resolution adds little substantive to the discussion. More analytical rigor is needed to push the substantive discussion forward.

Structurally, what they might be getting at is something like the following:

Employment Category % of Class FT PT Legal Non-Legal Temp. Perm.
Law Firms 55% 95% 5% 90% 10% 0% 100%
Business & Industry 10% 75% 25% 40% 60% 65% 35%
Government 10% 100% 0% 65% 35% 0% 100%
Public Interest 5% 60% 40% 90% 10% 20% 80%
Judicial Clerks 2% 100% 0% 100% 0% 100% 0%
Academia 3% 50% 50% 0% 100% 50% 50%
Unemployed 12% - - - - - -
Unknown 1% - - - - - -
Graduate Degree 2% - - - - - -

This suggestion assumes away the above-mentioned ambiguities. It would do a passable job at increasing transparency, but if this is the intended suggestion it is not at all clear from the text of the resolution.

Access to Employment Information

FURTHER RESOLVED, that the American Bar Association urges all ABA-Approved Law Schools to include this employment information data on their websites, in their catalogues, and in their acceptance notices sent to applicants for admission, or include in each of those locations a conspicuous notice of where such data can be obtained

Access is key, but it is currently of secondary importance. The Questionnaire Committee and Standard 509 Subcommittee are currently considering a central location for employment information (one that is conceptually similar to LSAC’s Official Guide website). This website necessitates that the Standards Review Committee and Questionnaire Committee work together—the former via an accreditation standard and the latter executing that standard via the annual questionnaire. This goes directly to what the YLD wants to do with the resolution: put employment information into the hands of the consumers.

The most important issues are how the information is presented, whether the information is comparable, and whether it conveys something meaningful to those reading it. Without fixing the information, access only propagates low quality information.

Still, it is noteworthy to have yet another voice calling for schools to share the employment information they already have. Too many schools do not provide any information above and beyond what they report to the ABA, and too many others do not even include employment information on their websites.

Salary Information

FURTHER RESOLVED, that the American Bar Association urges all ABA-Approved Law Schools to increase transparency regarding their graduates’ salaries by displaying data regarding the salaries on their websites when such disclosures would not violate the confidentiality of graduates’ salary information, and to similarly display the national median salary information, by employment type, for all law school graduates, and the median salary information for the schools’ respective states and regions.

Concern for salary confidentiality is a widely acknowledged, important consideration. But currently, the ABA does not consider any salary information to be “basic consumer information” under Standard 509. This will change, as both the Questionnaire Committee and Standard 509 Subcommittee plan to require salary information as part of reform. The focus is therefore on how to share salary information while respecting privacy, in a way that helps prospective students to make an informed judgment about the short-term economic viability of a school’s law degree.

There is already a lively discussion going on about how to provide quality salary information, rather than whether to do it all. As such, this recommendation is an interesting contribution, if a little late. The real discussion at this point is about how to execute a suitable vision in Standard 509 and on the annual questionnaire.

Cost of Attendance

FURTHER RESOLVED, that the American Bar Association urges all ABA-Approved Law Schools to similarly publicize the actual cost of law school education, on a per-credit basis, and the average cost of living expenditures while attending law school.

As we wrote last week (this suggestion is precisely what Mr. Zack called for), this suggestion puzzles us:

Mr. Zack also emphasizes that the cost of attendance should play an integral role in an applicant’s calculus. However, his examples miss the point. He calls for information about “hourly credit cost” and the “standard of living in [the schools’] given areas . . . over a three year period.” The ABA already collects and distributes this information, and all schools provide it on their websites. School projections might serve some function, but they generally do not have any knowledge of or control over rising tuition. Mandating projections would be a waste of time and money because it’s something applicants can already do within a reasonable degree of specificity.

Mentioning cost transparency is an easy public relations win for Mr. Zack, but it has no substance as presently conveyed. To be fair, he does cite these suggestions as examples for how schools can share “what the real cost of their legal education will be.” But the real problem isn’t with understanding how much the degree costs. The difficulty is trying to comprehend what $200,000 looks like over the life of repayment, including interest. Requiring that debt service schedules accompany every law school application and acceptance letter might help, though this would be information that is already available via an internet search.

While it is good to see that the YLD and Mr. Zack agree, this suggestion diverts attention from far more important cost considerations. Perhaps their desire to say something that sounds meaningful outweighs their desire to contribute meaningfully to pressing for law school transparency.

Standard 509, the Annual Questionnaire, and a Model Questionnaire

FURTHER RESOLVED, that the American Bar Association urges the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar to consider revising the Standards for Approval of Law Schools to require law schools to provide on their websites, and in other reasonable methods of communication, additional data on employment and placement of graduates and collect more information from schools through the Section’s Annual Questionnaires to be published by the Section as part of its consumer-information function.

FURTHER RESOLVED, that the American Bar Association urges the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar to consider using and adopting a model questionnaire created by the American Bar Association which will incorporate the various provisions of this resolution.

The final two resolutions suggest that the Section of Legal Education do what it is already doing, and the YLD is exactly right. The Questionnaire Committee and Standard 509 Subcommittee are so far doing a great job. They take seriously the interests of all stakeholders, and understand why it is so important to get better information into the hands of consumers.

It is difficult to take the YLD seriously when their resolutions do not add anything new to the conversation. Why the YLD has chosen to highlight the contributions of the YLD, without acknowledging the contributions of the committees they are trying to influence, is beyond us. That simply is not an effective strategy.

The YLD is in a great position to advocate for the interests of new members to the legal profession, assuming they choose to become more engaged. Our ultimate hope is that the YLD revise its strategy by talking to those in the Section of Legal Education who are already working on these issues, and then provide useful input on behalf of the YLD’s members. Law schools have plenty of advocates on their side of the argument, ready to explain why reform is too expensive or why it doesn’t matter; the legal profession needs those representing consumer interests to advocate as well.

ABA Young Lawyers Division Press Release

Source: ABA Now.

ATLANTA, Feb. 12, 2011 – The American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division is leading a campaign to ensure aspiring lawyers can better determine what their legal education will cost them and their prospects for employment as a lawyer. Today the division’s Assembly voted overwhelmingly to adopt a multi-point policy resolution that presses law schools to improve the information they provide prospective students, and ensure it is prominently featured in their communications.

“The Young Lawyers Division of the American Bar Association is proud to be at the forefront of the law school transparency movement,” said division chair David Wolfe. “It is essential that all prospective law school students have access to accurate and straightforward information regarding the real earning potential and cost of every law school.”

“There will always be a need for good lawyers,” said ABA President Stephen Zack, who had worked closely with the division to encourage development of the new policy. “But—although you wouldn’t know it from watching flashy TV shows about the law—most lawyers are Main Street lawyers, not Wall Street lawyers. It’s important young people planning a legal career consider how much debt they should take on, based on what they are likely to make.”

The proposal cannot mandate change but is expected to be influential. It is expected that the division will bring the resolution to the ABA House of Delegates for a vote in August, making it the official policy of the entire association.

With nearly 400,000 members, the American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.

January ABA Standards Review Committee Meeting

This weekend, January 8-9, the ABA Standards Review Committee (“SRC”) will hold their quarterly meeting in San Francisco, CA. The meeting comes at the end of the annual AALS conference this week, during which law faculty meet in groups to discuss various facets of legal education. It is also the second SRC meeting at which a newly-established subcommittee will report on Standard 509.

During this meeting, the SRC will not focus exclusively on reforming schools’ employment reporting, in contrast with the Questionnaire Committee in December (recap here). Instead, the SRC will hear from all of its subcommittees in turn. You can view most of their reports here.

Of particular importance for our readers will be tomorrow afternoon’s report by Dean David Yellen of Loyola-Chicago, chair of the Subcommittee on Standard 509. This subcommittee was established last summer to look more closely at what changes the SRC should make to Standard 509, otherwise known as the consumer protection provision of the Accreditation Standards.

As with the rest of the Standards, if a school does not comply with both the standard and its accompanying interpretations, the school can be sanctioned and potentially stripped of their accreditation by the ABA. Because of this, the SRC is expected to take slow, careful steps with any of the subcommittee’s proposed changes. There will be a comment window after the SRC puts together its draft changes, during which the ABA will encourage public participation (and may potentially hold hearings, similar to the Questionnaire Committee last month). LST will be involved in this process.

Reform may still be in its early stages, but it’s important to monitor this initial progress before the ABA solicits comments so that the public is fully informed. Dean Yellen and his 509 team only made their first report a few months ago, at the SRC’s November meeting. Per a response we received from an ABA representative, the minutes from that meeting should be available for public viewing as soon as the SRC approves them. We are also hoping to listen in tomorrow via conference call, since the meeting is public and we are unable to make it to San Francisco (help LST travel to these events).

For now, below are the relevant portions of 509 and the interpretations as they currently apply to ABA approved law schools. If you have suggestions for how the subcommittee might improve the standards to ensure better reporting on employment outcomes, please do not hesitate to contact them. Additionally, if you believe your law school has violated the existing Standard 509—particularly 509(a)’s fair and accurate requirement, which is emphasized in Interpretations 509-2 and 509-4—you should check out the ABA’s complaint procedures here.

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 509-1
The following categories of consumer information are considered basic:
(1) admission data;
(2) tuition, fees, living costs, financial aid, and refunds;
(3) enrollment data and graduation rates;
(4) composition and number of faculty and administrators;
(5) curricular offerings;
(6) library resources;
(7) physical facilities; and
(8) placement rates and bar passage data.

Interpretation 509-2
To comply with its obligation to publish basic consumer information under the first sentence of this Standard, a law school may either provide the information to a publication designated by the Council or publish the information in its own publication. If the school chooses to meet this obligation through its own publication, the basic consumer information shall be published in a manner comparable to that used in the Council-designated publication, and the school shall provide the publication to all of its applicants.

. . .

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.

[emphasis added throughout]

Introduction to the ABA’s Initiatives on Law School Transparency

The American Bar Association (“ABA”) is a very large professional organization, with over 400,000 members (predominately practicing lawyers and law students). Among other services, the ABA provides law school accreditation and continuing legal education (CLE’s), educates its members and others about the law, assists lawyers and judges in their work, and actively seeks to improve the legal system and legal profession. Among the ABA’s goals, servings its members and improving the profession rub right against the responsibility law schools have to their prospective and current students as a gatekeeper to the profession.

Recently, the ABA reentered the ongoing discussion about law school transparency, particularly with respect to historical post-graduation employment outcomes. This reentry is highly appropriate because the ABA exerts considerable regulatory power over law schools. The ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar (“Section of Legal Education”) has official certification as a law school accrediting agency from the Department of Education. While most of the news coverage regarding the ABA and law school transparency has only come about fairly recently, the ABA has from time to time initiated various reforms.

Prior ABA Initiatives

The MacCrate Report


Robert MacCrate

In 1992, the MacCrate Report—the product of an ABA-commissioned task force for improving legal education—underscored “the need for informed choice.” The MacCrate Report discusses “the perceived lack of adequate information” and that “prospective law students generally are not knowledgeable about the profession, [including] . . . different paths for entry into the profession.” It prescribes responsibility to the ABA and individual law schools. As a result of the MacCrate Report, the ABA set forth disclosure requirements (Standard 509) in an attempt to cure the information asymmetry between law schools and prospective law students.

Standard 509

In 1996, ABA Standard 509 was born:

A law school shall publish basic consumer information. The information shall be published in a fair and accurate manner reflective of actual practice.

Through ABA Standard 509, the ABA recognizes law schools’ obligation to provide “basic consumer information” to prospective law students. It does not matter to whom the law schools report this information; any reported information must be both “fair and accurate.” The Interpretations which follow Standard 509 contain a list of what consumer information the ABA considers “basic.” From the list, two components (bar passage rate and percent employed after graduation) are the only ones that describe post-graduation outcomes. While neither Standard 509 nor the Interpretations define the term “consumer,” it is reasonable and important to assume “consumer” refers to prospective law students and not just accepted or current law students. The MacCrate Report nicely captured why it’s important to recognize prospective law students as consumers (emphasis added):

The decision to pursue a career in the law should be a considered choice reached with a full awareness of its implications. . . .There are three critical stages of decision-making en route to becoming a lawyer: 1) Perhaps the most significant, whether to enter the legal profession at all: 2) which law school to choose; and 3) what career path to enter after law school. Each occasion should be a time for careful reflection and self-assessment based upon sufficient information to make an informed choice . . . .Timely and accurate information about the legal profession and the function of law schools as the gateway to the profession helps prepare prospective applicants for a future in law and may help prevent some from becoming locked into a career from which they draw no real satisfaction, for which they are poorly suited and in which they perform marginally. Such individuals need access to comprehensive and objective information;. . . Prospective law students generally are not knowledgeable about the profession: what certain jobs entail; what different paths for entry into the profession may be; how students should prepare for their careers; and how law schools may differ in the preparation they offer. Law students tend to be passive consumers of legal education: they simply assume that the law school experience adequately prepares them for practice.

Nearly twenty years later, the ABA has chosen to revisit the issue of consumer rights, taking a closer look at the need for reform and proposing a number of initiatives. We examine each of these in turn.

New ABA Initiatives

What are they?


David Wolfe

(1) Young Lawyers Division (YLD), “Truth in Law School Education”

YLD is chaired by David Wolfe, a New Jersey attorney. Little is known currently about the YLD’s initiative because it is reportedly still in the planning stages. Early considerations according to the National Law Journal include “requiring law schools to disclose cost and employment statistics to all accepted law school applicants.” ABA President Steve Zack told a gathering of law school deans and faculty that he hopes the YLD will consider the “Truth in Law School Education” resolution in February.

(2) The ABA Questionnaire Committee

The Questionnaire Committee is chaired by Art Gaudio, dean of Western New England College School of Law. Dean Gaudio appears to have a clear understanding of the problem prospective law students face, and we are optimistic about the proposals his Committee may suggest. From a letter LST received from Dean Gaudio in his role as committee chair:

As you know, the situation for law school graduates who are seeking gainful employment in law firms or otherwise in the legal profession is problematic (to understate the matter). Furthermore, law school applicants are [sic] have difficulty understanding or are simply unable to obtain the information they need to make informed decisions when applying to law schools. As I’m sure you are aware, many assertions have been made about reported placement data – that it’s incomplete, that it’s difficult to understand, that it’s not uniformly reported, that it’s inaccurate, and even that it’s misleading. There have been requests that placement data supplied by law schools about their graduates be more complete, be more informative, be more uniformly reported, and perhaps even be audited. In response, concerns have been raised regarding the confidentiality of graduates and their data, the inability of getting all graduates to respond to requests for data, and that other law schools are not reporting their data as requested. This is not a complete list of the issues, and that is also part of the problem.

The Questionnaire Committee is doing something about the problem and actively seeking input from interested parties like LST (see more below).


Art Gaudio, dean of Western
New England College School of Law

This year we have before us a special task – to review and revise where appropriate the reporting of placement data by law schools. . . . Our task is no small one and we are seeking your input and help.

The committee’s hearing reflects only early-stage activity. It is not clear what modifications will eventually make it through the entire Questionnaire Committee’s process. But LST will follow the progress closely and encourage readers to get involved.

(3) The ABA Standards Review Committee


Donald Polden, dean of
Santa Clara Law

The Standards Review Committee is chaired by Donald Polden, dean of Santa Clara Law. Dean Polden has established a subcommittee to review the ABA’s employment reporting standard (Standard 509). He has appointed David Yellen, dean of Loyola University Chicago School of Law, to chair the Standard 509 Subcommittee. Dean Polden has asked Dean Yellen to prepare a recommendation for modifying Standard 509 to better serve prospective law students as consumers.

Like the Questionnaire Committee, this subcommittee is in its early stages. Back in June, Dean Polden requested that Dean Yellen and his fellow subcommittee members read our white paper to serve as a baseline for why the present level of information fails prospective law students.

In addition to this show of good faith by the Standards Review Committee, Dean Yellen is already leading by example when it comes to meaningful disclosure of employment information. His law school is among the best when it comes to disclosing post-graduation employment outcomes. Loyola University Chicago School of Law (“LUC”) not only exceeds the current employment reporting standards, but does so meaningfully.


David Yellen, dean of
Loyala University Chicago
School of Law

LUC meaningfully exceeds the current reporting standards in a few ways. First, LUC currently provides the state-by-state breakdowns of where 276 graduates in the Class of 2009 work. Until data on the Class of 2010 is collected next February, this is the most recent available data on post-graduation employment. Second, LUC provides a more nuanced breakdown of the employer types of employed graduates. Third, LUC provides salary ranges for multiple categories, and tells the reader the number of graduates included in these ranges.

Additionally, LUC provides a list of 2009 graduates’ employers, similar to the lists that inspired LST. But LUC’s list is not without fault. For instance, LUC provides no law firm locations and does not list whether more than one graduate worked for a particular employer. We suspect that this accounts for at least a few of the graduates missing from this list. It includes 185 employers, thus at least 185 graduates, out of 307 graduates (Source: LUC’s Assistant Dean Marianne Deagle). Nevertheless, accounting for the actual employer for about 60% of the entire class is a big step in the right direction. Reporting information in this manner gives a much more robust picture of the job prospects coming from a particular school. It also gives prospective law students the means to research employers in the entry-level market to help inform them about what the MacCrate Report called “the nature of the legal job market.” Dean Yellen’s school will serve as a good baseline for the 509 Subcommittee to start.

What should you make of these initiatives?

Let us be clear: The ABA is headed in the right direction, and the media is doing its job of paying attention so that these initiatives don’t fall by the wayside. LST will continue our work to make the process as transparent as possible given its importance to the legal profession. We will also make sure that the proposals do not fall short of their goals as time goes on.

There is a need for people to pay attention and get involved in these discussions. Some have voiced concerns (to us and to the media) that the ABA is a captured organization incapable of producing adequate reform on their own. To quiet these doubts, we hope that the ABA appointees continue to encourage involvement from across the profession. LST is also weighing in on one of the initiatives: we have been asked to present at the ABA Questionnaire Committee’s hearing on December 13, 2010 in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. We will also be involved with the Standard 509 Subcommittee as its initiatives continue developing throughout next year. Visit the Section of Legal Education’s calender to see when the ABA Questionnaire Committee and Standards Review Committee plan to meet.

One thing to look out for is what enforcement mechanism the Young Lawyers Division plans to use to “require” disclosure. Only the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar has accreditation authority; other ABA divisions such as the YLD instead provide suggestions and best practices, which schools do not necessarily have to follow. One option is for the YLD to work out a proposal for the Standards Review Committee to consider, either for creating a new standard in Chapter 5 or a new interpretation of Standard 509 (perhaps a modification of Interpretation 509-2.) The YLD could also unofficially lobby the Standards Review Committee by making a recommendation for a change like the two mentioned above. Finally, the YLD could make recommendations directly to the ABA-approved law schools and allow public pressure to enforce the resolution.

Any of the possible routes have the potential to be transformative if implemented, but that depends on the level of information being requested. As ABA President Stephen Zack alludes to in the National Law Journal piece, the real question is one about the quality of the information, not the manner in which it is delivered to the consumer. As we detailed in our white paper, the most diligent prospective law students in all but a few cases cannot find enough meaningful information to make an informed decision. Simply putting the currently-available information in such a conspicuous place will not solve this problem.

Nonetheless, the YLD’s actions are essential. First, it demonstrates that young lawyers care about how law schools present employment information and are searching for constructive solutions. Second, it reveals another method for informing prospective law students (in this case, accepted applicants) about the outcomes they can expect and the positive costs they can expect to incur by attending law school. Third, it reflects the broader attitude that it is time for regulatory reform for America’s law schools.

However, the YLD has been criticized for looking at a solution that only releases information to accepted students. This criticism is misplaced. The YLD’s efforts would not replace the Official Guide as a source for employment information reported to the ABA by ABA law schools, nor would they be inaccessible to non-accepted students given the ability to post and share information online. As presently described, the YLD’s proposal looks to close the gap between accepted students who look at the available employment information and those who do not. If for some reason schools include new information in the acceptance letter (and only in acceptance letters), LST will ensure that this information reaches prospective students by publishing the letters and employment information for all to see.

These initiatives show that change is afoot, even if it will take years to implement some of those changes. During the process LST will help ensure that these groups operate in a manner that makes them accessible to public involvement. The likelihood of meaningful change will only increase as more prospectives (or consumers, or investors) get involved. Please send us your ideas or how you plan to participate in the process.