American Bar Association / ABA, Job Searches, Law Schools, Rankings, Student Loans, U.S. News

Law School Transparency Group Seeks Data from Law Schools

Back in April, we reported on an admirable organization called Law School Transparency. The goal of LST: “encouraging and facilitating the transparent flow of law school employment information.”

Given what’s typically at stake — three years of your life, and six figures of cash (or student loans) — the decision to attend law school is an important one. There’s a case to be made in favor of law school, and there’s a case to be made against it. (For the case against, see pretty much any post about law school by my colleague, Elie Mystal, or any of the bloggers on this blogroll.)

Regardless of the ultimate outcome, the decision should be made based on accurate and complete information. And that information should include data about employment outcomes for graduates of a given law school. If I get a J.D. from law school X, what kind of job can I expect to obtain?

This is where Law School Transparency (LST) comes in. What is LST doing to advance the ball in reporting employment data from law schools?

Law School Transparency plans to collect detailed employment information from law schools and then make it publicly available on the LST website, for all to see. As we previously discussed, LST hopes to gather and disseminate employment data at a much higher level of detail / granularity than either the American Bar Association or U.S. News & World Report (for use in its influential law school rankings).

Earlier this month, Patrick Lynch and Kyle McEntee, the Vanderbilt law students who founded LST, sent out a request for information to law school deans and other administrators. You can check out the 20-page document they sent out over here (PDF). Reports the ABA Journal:

[Lynch and McEntee’s] letter, sent to the deans of all ABA-accredited and provisionally accredited law schools, seeks information about types of employers, salaries and salary sources for the class of 2010, as of February 2011. According to the letter, employment data reported to the ABA and U.S. News & World Report is aggregated, making it difficult to answer meaningful questions about employment prospects.

It explains the benefits of cooperation in the jobs survey this way: “Better information about where graduates go can highlight law schools that have successfully developed niches in particular geographical markets, job sectors, or fields of law. This will help direct prospectives to the schools that can best serve their individual professional goals. At the national level, greater clarity about hiring statistics and starting salaries can help improve the financial preparedness of future lawyers by giving them the information they need to make accurate risk assessments.”

The letter asks law schools that decline to report the data to explain why. The results will be published on the Law School Transparency website.

Is this project going to work? Abigail Field of AOL Daily Finance isn’t so sure:

Can two law students do what the legal education system has failed to do — namely, give prospective students the information to make smart decisions about enrolling? Probably not, since they lack subpoena power, but at least they’re trying. Two students have formed a nonprofit and have asked law schools to submit relatively detailed yet basic information about the types of jobs, and salaries, that the law schools’ graduates get upon graduation….

I’m not sure there will be any results, though, given how dismal the schools’ true answers are likely to be.

We share Field’s skepticism. Certain law schools have every incentive to conceal the poor job that they do of finding decent jobs for their graduates.

But could collective action help pressure them into disclosure? The writer “Locke,” of the anti-law-school blog Shilling Me Softly, floats an idea:

My question to you all is whether you think that those of us who are concerned about future victims of the law school scam should lobby our alma maters to cooperate with LST? Is this the right approach for changing the system, or just wishful thinking?

Stay tuned. LST has asked for schools to indicate whether they’ll report employment data according to the LST standards — which are more rigorous than the U.S. News or ABA standards, but perfectly reasonable — by September 10, 2010. We’ll check in with LST after that date to see which schools are unafraid of the truth and which ones want to hide the ball.

To any of our readers who are contemplating law school: If a law school that you’re interested in refuses to provide LST with detailed employment data for its graduates, ask yourself: What is the school trying to hide? Drawing an adverse inference from silence might be forbidden in certain circumstances in criminal law, but it’s perfectly permissible in consumer law. If you decide to attend a law school that willfully refused to make its employment data public, you may have only yourself to blame if you find yourself jobless and deeply in debt three years later.

Good luck to Law School Transparency in its important — and challenging — mission.

Law School Transparency [official website]
New Nonprofit Asks Law Schools for Detailed Salary, Job Information [ABA Journal]
Law School Transparancy Project Requests Detailed Employment Data From Each School [TaxProf Blog]
And in the Business of Law [Daily Finance (last item)]
Law School Transparency Project Places Law Schools on Notice Today [Shilling Me Softly]

Earlier: Increasing Transparency in Employment Reporting by Law Schools: What Is To Be Done?

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