American Bar Association / ABA, Job Searches, Law School Deans, Law Schools, National Association for Law Placement (NALP), Rankings, Student Loans, U.S. News, Vanderbilt

Most Schools Would Like Law School Transparency to Just Go Away

In July, we profiled the efforts of a group of Vanderbilt law students who are trying to bring more accuracy and transparency to the employment statistics provided by law schools. Their group, Law School Transparency, has requested all ABA-accredited schools to provide useful information to prospective law students — information that neither the ABA nor U.S. News currently collects.

Without the regulatory hammer of ABA (which the organization inexplicably refuses to wield), or the public shaming of U.S News (a for-profit magazine, not an industry watchdog), LST is up against some long odds. They’re trying their best, but their interim report indicates that thus far, 188 law schools have completely ignored their efforts to report simple facts on the employment prospects of law school graduates.

In fact, to this point no school (not even Vanderbilt Law) has agreed to provide the information LST is requesting. Poor Zenovia Evans would have starved to death by now.

But 11 schools did find the time to send out a courtesy letter citing the reasons these schools cooked up to justify keeping people in the dark about employment prospects for law school graduates…

Here’s the update from the LST people:

No school outright said “yes,” though three schools have told us that they are waiting to make a final decision about full compliance with LST’s standard. These schools are American, Michigan, and Vanderbilt. Ave Maria will make its decision by Thursday, September 16. The other eight schools declined our initial request to commit, citing various concerns with the LST standard. To view the full responses, visit http://www.lawschooltransparency.com/2010/09/initial-request-responses/.

Of the respondents, nearly all expressed support for providing accurate information to prospective law students. Two schools stated that they believe the current level of information they provide to prospectives or admitted students is adequate. We have published a preliminary report on our first request that summarizes the results of LST’s initial request and discusses some of the concerns. To view this report, visit http://www.lawschooltransparency.com/2010/09/prelim-report-on-lst-initial-request/.

You should click over to the full responses from the 11 schools if you want to be truly entertained. The reasons for non-compliance given by some of these schools are sometimes baffling, occasionally unbelievable, and always frustrating. Here are some of my favorite lines:

* From Colorado Law:

Recently, I have told our staff that if it comes down to meeting demands for assistance to students in their job searches or data collection, the latter must give way.

Translation: we have way too many unemployed graduates to sit around and count them all.

* From Florida’s Levin College of Law:

Our college follows the guidelines set by the American Bar Association, the Law School Admissions Council, and the National Association for Legal Career Professionals for reporting employment-related data. We agree that there are always other factors that could be considered and other methodologies that could be used in describing placement results, and we believe there is room for improvement in current methodologies. We plan to follow the above-mentioned guidelines in our reporting at this time, and we plan to participate in efforts to improve those guidelines.

Translation: We will participate in efforts to improve reporting, but only future, theoretical efforts, which do not exist. Your efforts are way too practical and real to warrant our immediate assistance.

* From William Mitchell College of Law:

We strive to be complete and thorough when publishing and reporting this data and when responding to inquiries from prospective students.

Is there any William Mitchell student out there who wants to check how “thorough” the school will be if you ask them?

* The most disheartening response come from Northwestern Law, if only because I thought that Northwestern would be the one place that had no interest in hiding information:

We agree with the general mission of Law School Transparency. However, as I have stated elsewhere, we believe that the type of information you have requested, which in some cases is quite sensitive, is better collected and assembled by a more well-established organization – ideally for the purpose of creating an alternative ranking.

Come on. A “more well-established organization” has no interest in exposing the truth behind law school employment numbers. Just think about it, Northwestern. What possible reason does U.S. News have to ask more detailed questions about employment statistics? So it can tacitly admit it has been part of the problem all along? So more people read it and think “crap, I shouldn’t go to law school,” which does nothing but hurt the (for-profit) magazine’s newsstand sales and circulation?  U.S. News will never stand up to law schools and force them to stop inflating their employment numbers, not so long as the magazine’s business managers want to keep people thinking about going to law school.

NALP director James Leipold has already flatly stated that law schools won’t provide him more detailed information. I directly asked him why NALP won’t collect more detailed information, and Leipold told me “because law schools wouldn’t do it.” NALP is a “more well-established” organization, and law schools just ignore it when it suits them.

Saying that you’re waiting for a more well-established organization to take up the cause of law school transparency is like telling your mistress that you’ll leave your wife “when the wife is able to handle it.” It sounds reasonable until you think about it for two seconds and realize that it’s a fake deadline that will never come to pass.

Yet, despite Northwestern’s answer, the school still comes out looking better than most of the rest of its top-14 brethren. At least somebody over there took five minutes to pound out an email to LST (for the full list of the 11 schools that did respond, which includes Michigan, click here).

Some 188 schools couldn’t be bothered to fashion a reply. In response to an urgent question that affects the life of every person who is in law school or is considering going to law school, 188 law schools just ignored it. What does that tell you about where student employment concerns rank in the minds of the best legal educators in the land?

The thing that should be frustrating to all law students (and prospective law students) is that there is a really simple reason these schools want nothing to do with law school transparency. It’s not about the work involved in gathering the data or the so-called privacy concerns; if U.S. News asked them for this information, they’d produce it faster you can say: “and dropping into the third tier this year…”

Law schools don’t want to produce this information because law deans know that being honest about employment numbers would decrease the number of kids who want to go to law school. Oh, they can talk a big game about the intellectual experience of law school, and “all the things you can do with a JD,” and even “freedom” — so long as we are in the dark about what the real employment outcomes are for their graduates. Law school administrators know that prospective law students will debt-finance three years worth of expensive education based on little more than anecdotal evidence and hope.

But those administrators also know that if confronted with the cold reality of their post-law school earning potential, at least one (if not a hundred, if not a thousand) fewer kids would decide to keep their three years and $100,000+. And the law schools just don’t want that to happen. They have no interest in limiting law school applications to those who actually want to be lawyers. Instead, they have every interest in making law school look like an attractive option to every yahoo with a liberal arts degree and an LSAT prep book (at some schools, the LSAT prep is optional, of course).

Certainly administrators don’t want to live in fear of a private lender (or, gasp, the federal government) one day taking its head out of its ass and saying: “Hey wait a minute, you’re charging upwards of $50K a year, yet less than half of your class is able to secure a full-time job with decent pay? Maybe I’ll not be blindly approving this loan.”

That’s the problem, isn’t it? Law schools are so used to people acting blindly that apparently 188 of them think that just by shutting their eyes, this little “problem” of random students asking them valid questions will go away. Are they right?

Earlier: Law School Transparency Group Seeks Data from Law Schools

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