Fed up with the slow movement towards law school transparency, several law school student body presidents are appealing to a higher power. They’ve proposed legislation that would require law schools to engage in some honest reporting practices, under the oversight of the Department of Education.

If the American Bar Association is too weak or too unwilling to act, these students are hoping the DOE will take into account the best interests of students. Arne Duncan, if you are listening, every law student in America could use your help.

The movement seems to be spearheaded by Nate Burris, the student president at Boston College Law School. But 55 other SBA presidents have signed on, representing law schools in 27 states.

We already know that the legal educators don’t give a damn about the changes their students would like to see, but is there any chance law makers or the DOE will take a look?

The press release (posted in full below) tries to shock the conscience of average onlookers who haven’t been paying attention to how law students are getting screwed. If you have been paying attention, these numbers are not new — yet still disgusting, when you just lay them out like this:

Between 1985 and 2009, tuition rates have increased over 800% at private law schools, and over 500% at public law schools. As a result, the average graduate of a private law school in 2009 incurred over $100,000 of debt, while the debt of public law school graduates was over $70,000 – not including debt incurred from an undergraduate education. As of 2008 – prior to the recent recession affecting the legal job market – the American Bar Association reported that 42% of graduates would by employed at salaries below the level necessary for a positive return on the investment in a legal education. However, many schools report employment rates approaching 100% and average salaries as high as $160,000.

Now, many have called for increased transparency about graduate outcomes. But this proposal is particularly interesting because it deals with the 800-pound, toothless gorilla in the room, namely, the American Bar Association:

The legislation does not take the role of accreditor from the hands of the American Bar Association. Rather, it aims to strengthen oversight by giving authority to the Department of Education to ensure that current and prospective students receive sufficient, accurate information. The proposed legislation parallels the body of law governing corporations, where annual reports are submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

That’s the fun wrinkle. The ABA still gets to have “oversight” over law schools, and can use it to do absolutely nothing to stop the insanity, just like it’s been doing all this time. But instead of reporting their “statistics” to an ABA organization that doesn’t seem to ready to force law schools to produce relevant information, the schools would have to report directly to the DOE.

My guess is that the Department of Education doesn’t want anything to do with the mess that is American legal education. My guess is that Arne Duncan and the Obama administration would rather fight over charter schools than actually fix a system where you can’t even get educators to look you in the eye and tell you the truth about graduate outcomes. My guess is that the public doesn’t really care whether or not people have the opportunity to know what they are getting into when they matriculate to law school.

But maybe all of this pressure will lead a few smart and innovative schools to give students and prospective students what they want — and need. Maybe a few educators will remember that their purpose is to educate, not mislead.

At the very least, maybe the mere threat of more government oversight will scare a few schools into doing the right thing.


Student Body Presidents of 55 Law Schools Call for Reform in the Reporting of Data Pertaining to Legal Education

NEWTON, MA – The student body presidents of 55 law schools across the country joined together today in a call for enhanced accuracy, accountability and transparency in the reporting of data pertaining to legal education. The presidents, from 27 states, proposed legislation to reform the current system of reporting in order to ensure the receipt of sufficient information – necessary for prospective law students to make informed decisions as to where, or whether, to attend law school – that is both clear and accurate.

The proposed legislation would require law schools to submit annual reports to the Department of Education, and would further require the Dean of each law school to endorse such reports. Federal funding provided to schools would be contingent on both the submission and accuracy of the reports, which would include an array of post-graduation employment data. The legislation does not take the role of accreditor from the hands of the American Bar Association. Rather, it aims to strengthen oversight by giving authority to the Department of Education to ensure that current and prospective students receive sufficient, accurate information. The proposed legislation parallels the body of law governing corporations, where annual reports are submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Between 1985 and 2009, tuition rates have increased over 800% at private law schools, and over 500% at public law schools. As a result, the average graduate of a private law school in 2009 incurred over $100,000 of debt, while the debt of public law school graduates was over $70,000 – not including debt incurred from an undergraduate education. As of 2008 – prior to the recent recession affecting the legal job market – the American Bar Association reported that 42% of graduates would by employed at salaries below the level necessary for a positive return on the investment in a legal education. However, many schools report employment rates approaching 100% and average salaries as high as $160,000.

“Tuition rates are rising, debt levels are historic, while job prospects for many are slim,” said Nate Burris, President of the Law Students Association at Boston College Law School and author of the proposed legislation. “This isn’t a bailout, nor is anyone asking for a ‘refund’ – more modestly, we are proposing the reform of a broken system that jeopardizes the future for many bright minds. We are proud of the education we have received, and it is our zeal for the legal profession, which we will soon enter, that drives this effort.”

The legislation builds on previous calls for increased transparency by such organizations as the Law School Transparency Project, and will be sent to congressional leaders later this week. “Since the federal government is providing the bulk of these loans,” said Burris, “the question is: does the federal government want to be the underwriter of this financial distress and discontent?”


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