Last week, the people at the Law School Transparency project scored a major victory. They got U.S. News to agree to disclose all of the employment information the magazine collects about law schools, with the release of next year’s influential rankings.

According to stories around the blogosphere, U.S. News rankings guru Robert Morse is even giving the LST people credit for pushing the magazine in this direction. U.S. News, mind you, has more power over law schools than the freaking American Bar Association — but it was influenced by two young guys from Vanderbilt. Check out coverage from the ABA Journal, the WSJ Law Blog, and the National Law Journal (subscription). Major kudos to Team LST!

The changes are good, but they’re not the Holy Grail of law school transparency. U.S. News won’t be collecting any additional information. Schools will still be able to materially misrepresent some of their crucial employment statistics, and U.S. News is not increasing the weight given to outcome-oriented metrics in its rankings methodology.

It’s definitely progress, but as long as the ABA refuses to wield its regulatory power, there’s only so much a magazine can do…

The Law School Transparency website has the details on some of the biggest changes that will be coming to a law school ranking near you:

New Fields: This section includes 7 new fields:

  • “Graduates whose employment status is unknown”
  • “Graduates whose employment status is known”
  • “Graduates known to be enrolled in a full-time degree program”
  • “Graduates known to be unemployed and seeking work”
  • “Graduates known to be unemployed and not seeking work”
  • “Graduates known to be employed”
  • “Percent employed in a judicial clerkship by an Article III federal judge”

The “Graduates whose employment status is unknown” and “Graduates whose employment status is known” fields, along with the “Graduates known to be employed” field, are the most important new additions. These figures are required for determining how much of the class is actually employed with certain types of employers, particularly those in private practice (law firms + business and industry). The private practice percentages are crucial for determining how many graduates schools used data for in calculating the salary information.

I imagine the “graduates whose employment status is unknown” will be the most telling and most interesting part of the new information. It will also be the part that prospective law students will most totally overlook and misunderstand. Prospective students will assume that employment outcomes for the unreported part of the class generally track those for the reported part of the class. They will be wrong about that.

One way to get around embarrassing employment statistics is for schools to avoid collecting information from graduates the school knows to be unemployed or underemployed. We know that schools are doing this already.

Moreover, we know that prospective law students don’t care about employment statistics. They only care about the overall rankings. So if U.S. News isn’t going to utilize this employment information to severely penalize schools with low employment rates (or schools that don’t report their employment information), then the message isn’t going to get through to prospective law students.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not criticizing the important move U.S. News is making. It has this information anyway, so it’s nice of them to share it with the rest of us. This new transparency will be a good thing.

But making things more transparent is not tantamount to making things more accurate. If the ABA won’t mandate the steps law schools need to take to ascertain the employment status of recent graduates, if the ABA won’t define what it means to be “employed” and “unemployed” and everything in between, if the ABA won’t hold law schools accountable for their graduate outcomes when it comes time to review each law school’s accreditation, then we are still fundamentally living in a world where all law school deans need concern themselves with is moving up a few spots on a rankings list published by a for-profit magazine.

And that rankings formula is famously (or infamously) input-driven, not outcome-focused. And so the law school game remains focused on enticing high LSAT performers to matriculate to law school, and then conveniently losing their phone numbers if they haven’t found a job three years later.

U.S. News to reform its disclosure of surveyed employment information [Law School Transparency]
US News to Disclose More Detailed Jobs Info for Law Grads [ABA Journal]
U.S. News to Offer More Detailed Info In Its Law Rankings [WSJ Law Blog]

Earlier: The Secret To Inflating Employment Rates? Only Survey Law Grads Who Are Employed
Even If You Told Prospective Law Students the Truth, Would They Care?


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