American Bar Association / ABA, Job Searches, Law Schools

The ABA Is Slowly Coming Around on Law School Transparency

For the second time in a month, the people at the American Bar Association are making noises about taking their role in regulating law schools more seriously. Earlier this month, the ABA’s “recession czar,” Allan Tanenbaum, criticized the new law school opening at Belmont.

Today the National Law Journal reports that new ABA President Steve Zach is telling law school deans he is considering requiring law school to disclose employment and cost statistics to admitted students.

A victory for law school transparency? Let’s not start sucking each other popsicles just yet. But it does look like the ABA is at least considering doing something to stop the blatant professional misrepresentation being engaged in by some of America’s law schools…

According to the NLJ, there are two ABA efforts underway that could start forcing law schools to be more honest when selling prospective law students the dream of going to law school.

One effort is called “Truth in Law School Education.” The other is being led by the ABA’s committee on “standard 509″ (which governs what kind of consumer information law schools are required to provide).

At the very least, it seems Zach understands the problem:

It is cause for concern that the number of law school applications is higher than ever at a time when law firms are shedding jobs, Zach said. He attributes some of that disconnect to applicants who lack an accurate sense of what lawyers do or how much they earn.

“What’s out there right know is ‘Boston Legal’ or ‘L.A. Law,'” he said. “There’s a total lack of awareness out there. They hear these astronomical salaries which reflect just the top 3 percent of students who go to the top 10 law firms.”

Law schools have an incentive to present data in the best possible light, since law schools are “huge profit centers” on college campuses, Zach said.

Bravo. So, what are you going to do about it?

The subcommittee on standard 509 is still in the early stages, however, and likely won’t have its recommendations until some time in 2011.

The Truth in Law School Education resolution could come sooner, said David Wolfe, the chairman of the ABA’s Young Lawyers Division…

“It’s still in the works, but it will link the requirement to disclose employment and cost information with accreditation,” he said. “You would get that information with your letter of acceptance to a law school. We want people to go to law school with their eyes open.”

Well, that would be a big step in the right direction. You can imagine the new acceptance letter. “Hey, you just got accepted to the Crappy College of Law. Congratulations. By the way, there’s only a 3 in 10 chance that you’ll get a legal job and you’ll be lucky to make $50,000. This is a wonderful opportunity for you! Tuition is $30,000 and we plan to raise that number three times while you are here.

That’s the law school acceptance letter people need to see. But it’s not the letter people will see if we just go with the statistics currently collected. David Yellen, Dean of Loyola Chicago and chairman of the standard 509 committee, puts the issue this way:

“The current standard is very general — you could even call it vague. People have been comparing apples to oranges because schools report what they want.”

For example, schools have to disclose to the ABA what percentage of their graduates are employed nine months after graduation. They don’t have to disclose whether students have part-time jobs, full-time jobs, jobs paid for by their law school or jobs that don’t require a J.D., Yellen said. Much of his information is already collected by the National Association for Law Placement, and should be required and disclosed by the ABA, he said.

Slow down with the data collected by NALP. Even NALP admits that the information it collects is far from complete.

But, again, things finally seem to be moving in the right direction. Somebody needs to force law schools to adhere to some minimum standard of truthfulness, and the ABA is the organization most able to make it happen. The responsibility is on the ABA, and maybe it is finally ready to step up to the plate.

ABA May Join Push for Law School Transparency [National Law Journal]

Earlier: Someone at the ABA Is Aware That New Law Schools Make No Sense

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