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ABA Law School Accreditation Committee Makes Strong Proposals

Invisible Unemployed

The new proposals for regulating law schools coming out of the American Bar Association’s Law School Accreditation Committee are not perfect, but they represent a major step in the right direction.

Now if we could only get the entire ABA to see that allowing law schools to provide misinformation to potential students is bad for everybody.

The National Law Journal reports that there are three major changes being proposed by the Accreditation Committee: changes in the way law schools report employment information, dropping the LSAT requirement, and dropping the requirement that law schools retain a tenure system…

(We’ll have to have the remainder of this conversation without the participation of law school faculties; they are busy running around like headless chickens trying protect their tenure systems.)

I’ve already shared my thoughts regarding the ABA dropping the LSAT requirement. The LSAT is an imperfect test that has way too much power over law school admissions. But so long as the ABA allows certain law schools to shamelessly profiteer off of students who have no reasonable chance of becoming practicing attorneys, the minimum barrier to entry that the LSAT provides seems worth it.

That leaves us with the other major proposal coming out of the Accreditation Committee: the move towards more standardization over how law schools report employment stats. Here’s the basic proposal reported in the NLJ:

Under its proposal, law schools would disclose the percentage of students whose employment status after nine months is unknown, as well as the percentage with law school-funded jobs. Additionally, schools would have to report the percentage of employed graduates who have jobs requiring bar passage and those in non-legal jobs. Schools would have to stipulate how many students are in part-time and full-time jobs, and would continue to disclose the number of graduates in business, government, judicial clerkships and academia.

It’s amazing that we are sitting here in 2011 and law schools are still not required to tell people how many graduates have “unknown” employment outcomes. That’s a loophole big enough to drive through hundreds of thousands of dollars in (non-dischargeable) education debt.

Look, we’re talking about really basic information here. How many of your own graduates did you talk to? How many law school graduates actually work as lawyers? How many people are employed by the law school itself? I can’t believe we’re still begging law schools to provide such simple metrics regarding their graduate outcomes.

In fact, the information is so basic that the Law School Transparency people aren’t even all that impressed:

The proposal was met with some concern from the leaders of Law School Transparency, a Tennessee-based nonprofit started last year by two Vanderbilt law students who want to wrest more detailed employment data from law schools.

Co-founder Kyle McEntee said the group would like to see salary information broken down by individual graduate rather than averaged out according to job description.

“Essentially, we’re a little concerned about the lack of connectivity between jobs and salary information,” he said. “This does some disaggregation of the current salary information, but it doesn’t go far enough.”

But law schools need to learn how to crawl before they can be expected to walk. We’re dealing with an industry of legal educators who believe their prospective students shouldn’t know all the relevant information about the value of their legal education. Getting them to simply acknowledge the percentages of their graduates that are unaccounted for nine months after graduation would be a pretty big step.

A step that would immediately show up in the schools’ U.S. News rankings:

Robert Morse, director of research at U.S. News & World Report, said the magazine would incorporate the more detailed employment information into its law school rankings, should the proposal be adopted.

If the ABA and U.S. News could make law schools just a little bit more concerned with graduate outcomes, it would benefit law students.

These proposals are a start; let’s hope that this kind of basic stuff is adopted.

Law school accreditation proposal would boost job placement transparency [National Law Journal]

Earlier: ABA Considers Dropping LSAT Requirement for Admission to Law School

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