Last Updated March 26, 2020
No single organization or person makes significant changes alone in legal education, but we have made significant contributions to the following:
Public Debate and Leadership on Challenges Facing Legal Education
We elevate issues through the mainstream and legal press, columns, and reports that we discover through our research, as well as other issues that we find important. With our founding, we led the charge against deceptive employment data and for increased transparency, currying involvement from the U.S. Senate, U.S. Department of Education, ABA, and state courts and legislatures. We have since played an important role in developing the narrative around predatory admissions and retention practices at law schools, using many of the same strategies to achieve law school accountability. Today, the law school transparency movement frames much of the debate around legal education.
Cultural Change: The Transparency Era
- Law Schools: Despite resistance early on to our transparency advocacy, there has since been an attitudinal shift among law schools related to transparency norms. This is especially true for career development and admissions professionals who were hired within the last decade.
- ABA Section of Legal Education: Although opportunities for improvement remain, the Section has become a model of transparency for the rest of higher education.
- Pre-Law Advisors: The quality of prelaw advising has improved through dialogue, presentations, and advising materials.
- Pre-Law Students: Those deciding whether and where to attend law school rely less on the toxic U.S. News rankings because they have access to high-quality statistics that permit meaningful comparisons between schools.
- Scholarship Negotiations: While students negotiated scholarships prior to our founding, the practice was not widespread. Pre-law advisors and students have been receptive to our advice on negotiation, whether through writing, social media, or speaking engagements. They are empowered to treat scholarship offers as transactional, rather than as acts of generosity.
- Young Lawyers: We have inspired and organized young lawyer affiliate groups to come together to address the cost of legal education. We co-authored A Way Forward: Transparency in 2018 with the Iowa State Bar Association Young Lawyers Division. The report urges the ABA to add two young lawyers to the accrediting body and to collect and publish additional data related to costs, debt, and diversity. The report has been endorsed by numerous young lawyer affiliate groups around the country and the ABA Law Student Division.
- Jobs Discussion: At our founding, law schools, the ABA, NALP, and (accordingly) the media used some variation of the basic employment rate (all jobs treated equally) to convey job outcomes to the public. Now, the gold standard job rate is long-term, full-time jobs that require a law license. This metric permits better discussion about the value of a law degree.
- Law Faculty: Faculty, staff, and administrators across a variety of law schools reconsidered moral questions of their continued employment, with at least several cases of people pursuing different employment.
Information Quality and Availability
Prospective law students make more informed choices about whether and where to attend law school due to a more complete and accurate dataset. Journalists and policymakers have a fuller understanding of many quantifiable aspects related to legal education.
Through Voluntary Disclosures
- ABA Standard 509 now explicitly prohibits false, misleading, and incomplete consumer information, including exaggerated job rates and salary figures.
- ABA Standard 509 now requires law schools to publish valuable consumer information prominently on their websites in a timely fashion. These required disclosures includes data on conditional scholarships and job outcomes, broken down into important subcategories (e.g. jobs that require a law license or jobs that are funded by the law schools).
- First-time bar passage rates are now collected and published on an accelerated timeline, enabling the public to gain access to critical information in a more timely manner.
- Data on gender and race/ethnicity for 1Ls are once again (and in greater detail) published by the ABA.
- Law schools are now subject to an audit protocol in response to coverage of law school deceptive practices related to employment data.
Through Improved Third-Party Tools
- After initially bucking the transparency movement, a solid majority of law schools ceded to pressure from LST and others and began to voluntarily publish their school-specific NALP Report each year. In 2009, zero law schools published this report. These reports contain helpful data that the ABA does not require, including:
- Salary Data (aggregated in categories, not individual salaries)
- Job Source (e.g., OCI, networking, direct mailings)
- Job Offer Timing (before graduation, before bar results, after bar results)
- Job Status (employed graduates who are still seeking or not seeking)
- Job Region and Job States
- Job Type Breakdowns by Employer Type (e.g., government JD Advantage)
- Following several admissions data scandals at well-regarded law schools, the Law School Admissions Council succumbed to public pressure from LST and others calling for the group to verify law school LSAT score medians, which restored public confidence in admissions data.
Through LST Tools
- U.S. News and World Report changed its ranking methodology, incentivizing schools to care more about their job outcomes.
- U.S. News and World Report made changes to the information it disclosed, both substantively and in presentation, ahead of the ABA's changes.
- The Above the Law rankings adopted the LST Employment Score as a part of its outcome-based ranking.
- NALP made improvements to its national summary reports and school-specific reports.
- NALP published
disaggregated salary distribution curves for top legal markets.
- The LST Reports organize volumes of data in an easy to use (but thoughtful) way and have helped tens of thousands of prospective law students make informed decisions.
- The LST Wizard creates a ranking based on your personal career ambitions, debt aversion, and more to find your best, most affordable options. It also provides admissions chances, anticipated scholarships, jobs outlook, and more.
- The I Am The Law podcast is a qualitative companion to our predominantly quantitative tools that profiles lawyers through informational interviews about the day-to-day aspects of their jobs. To date, the show has about 200,000 downloads.
- The Transparency Index assessed consumer information disclosures (mandatory and voluntary) at all ABA-approved law schools. Over a three-week period in early 2013, LST worked with 77 law schools to eliminate Standard 509 non-compliance issues. To start 78.4% of schools had a Standard 509 problem, but we resolved half of these problems directly with schools, with the ABA eliminating many of the remaining problems in the following months.
Service to the Underrepresented
- Our research shows three previously unreported leaks in the pipeline for women in the legal profession. Understanding these problems paves the way for equity.
- Our podcast mini-series, Women In The Law, was widely-acclaimed and resulted in new research featured in the New York Times. The mini-series covered six themes, including sexism in the workplace, the leaky pipeline for women before law school, the leaky pipeline for women after law school, portrayals of women lawyers in the press and popular culture, intersectional challenges (featuring a Muslim attorney and recently-transitioned transgender woman), and solutions. Each theme had an NPR-style episode and a companion roundtable discussion. Each theme also featured companion guest columns on Above the Law, Bloomberg Big Law Business, Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, Girls Guide to Law School, Diversity Lab, Hire An Esquire, and Lawyerist.
- Our podcast, I Am The Law, has profiled over 40 attorneys from diverse backgrounds. The show inspires people through real accounts of law practice to see themselves in a variety of employer settings and practice areas. One key purpose of the show is to bridge the gap for those who don't know many or any lawyers.
The ABA Section of Legal Education, the U.S. Department of Education-recognized accreditor of law schools, has been more active in its accrediting role:
- In 2012, the ABA changed Standard 509 to prohibit law schools from publishing deceptive information and to require schools to prominently publish specific, useful consumer information, including employment and conditional scholarship data.
- In 2015, following a memo from LST, the Section of Legal Education refined its application of Standard 501, which prohibits law schools from engaging in predatory admissions and retention practices. This has led to numerous actions against law schools and, ultimately, contributed to law school closures.
- In 2016, the ABA closed a loophole in Standard 316 that allowed schools to leave certain graduates who had failed the bar out of the bar passage rate calculation.
- In 2017, the ABA added an objective test to Standard 501 to make application of Standard 501 fairer and easier. The new standard creates a rebuttable presumption that a school with non-transfer attrition of at least 20% is out of compliance with the mandate that a school only admit people who appear capable of completing school and passing the bar exam.
- In 2017, the ABA accelerated the timeline it follows for collecting and publishing first-time bar passage rates, enabling the ABA to assess compliance more quickly.
- In 2019, the ABA improved the bar pass standard, Standard 316, to hold schools accountable for failure to prepare students to enter the profession.
As Justice Brandeis wrote, "sunlight is the best disinfectant." More transparency, higher-quality data, and press coverage about legal education's challenges have reduced an information asymmetry and added sanity to the law school market.
- Between 2010 and 2015, enrollment fell 29.3%. Since 2015, enrollment has remained steady.
- The number of schools providing conditional scholarships to students has fallen by a third.
- Tuition growth has slowed (but still significantly above inflation) after decades of growth well above inflation.
- The average amount borrowed by graduates who borrowed slowed after many years of rapid growth.
- Net tuition (the average price paid) has declined, though it has not made a significant dent in recent tuition growth, let alone growth from the last several decades.
Not all of the effects have been positive.
- The information asymmetry caused by deceptive consumer information (from law schools and the ABA) favored law schools and allowed them to grow enrollments well beyond reason. When demand drastically fell, it shocked law school budgets. In the response to financial pressure, many law schools relaxed admissions standards to the point of exploitation and falling bar passage rates followed.
- Faculty and staff around the country have lost their jobs as part of the correction.
- Net tuition decreased while sticker tuition increased. This means that the subsidies for students with an entering class' top credentials have grown—paid for by those with lesser credentials who are less likely to complete school, pass the bar, and get a job and who are more likely to be women and underrepresented minorities.
- The percentage borrowing to attend law school has decreased. At first glance this may seem good, but the most likely explanation is that high prices have disproportionately scared off students who would need to borrow.
Policy, however, is about tradeoffs. We hope (and believe) that the good outweighs the bad, both in the present and future. History will be the judge.
- We provided pro bono consulting to the University of North Texas Dallas College of Law during the early planning stages. We helped the school reduce its initial tuition price by more than 25%, chart the deployment of human capital, and develop innovative ideas for student extracurricular contributions to the accessibility of the law.
- In 2017, the ABA reversed course after attempting to weaken mandatory job statistics disclosures without public input.
- We have advised lawyers on three continents on how to improve transparency in legal education in their home country, as well as people from other professions in the United States on how to exert pressure on powerful actors in their respective educational spaces.
Tens of thousands of people use our resources every year. We help pre-law students to understand the legal profession and to make informed choices about whether and where to attend law school. We also help journalists and policymakers to understand the big picture challenges facing legal education. Our resources are primarily quantitative, but we include a mix of qualitative resources and analysis when it’s the most appropriate means for conveying critical information.
LST is one of the nation's most trusted sources for information and analysis on legal education issues. Our research, policy papers, reports, and staff are routinely cited by traditional and legal news organizations, popular blogs, and academic scholarship. We regularly speak at conferences and law schools, as well as participate in live TV and radio broadcasts, webinars, and podcasts.
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