American Bar Association / ABA, Law Schools, Politics

Senator Boxer Keeps Pressure On The ABA

I’m telling you, the tide is turning against the American Bar Association and the weakness the organization shows when it comes to regulating law schools. People are starting to figure out that major American law schools purposely mislead prospective students about post-graduate outcomes. People are starting to figure out that the ABA hasn’t done enough to stop this practice. And people are starting to try to hold the ABA accountable for its failure to hold law schools accountable.

It’s not just former and current law students who are demanding changes. Right now the ABA is dealing with a U.S. senator who wants action from the organization.

That’s right, Senator Barbara Boxer is once again urging the ABA to do its job….

Senator Boxer first put the ABA on notice back in March. In a letter addressed to ABA president Stephen Zack, Boxer asked the ABA for its plans for reforming the system that law schools are currently using to mislead students about post-graduate outcomes.

The ABA responded with the same platitudes we’ve been hearing for some time now. They’ve got a committee, suggestions are being made, they’re working on it. This fall another group of law students will start classes — having been lured to campus by incomplete and functionally inaccurate statistics, and maybe some illusory “merit scholarships” — but the ABA is still trying to figure what to do.

Zack’s response to Boxer went out a month ago, but surprisingly it seems the senator was not placated. Instead, Boxer sent another letter to Zack this past Friday. In pertinent part:

It is troubling that the recommendations do not address the need for independent oversight of the data law school deans submit to the ABA and publications like U.S. News and World Report. The Section’s recommendations would allow law schools to continue to submit unaudited data, despite the fact that a lack of oversight has been identified by many observers as a major problem.

The editor of U.S. News and World Report wrote a letter to all law school deans, noting a “crisis of confidence in the law school sector” and asked deans to be more vigilant in their data reporting. This letter and the recent news that a well-known law school admitted to knowingly reporting inaccurate data to the ABA for years indicates that independent oversight must surely be a part of any reform proposal

The folks at the ABA might be the last people paying attention to this issue to get it, but law school deans cannot be trusted to report full and accurate employment information. Sure, maybe it’s hard to believe that educators — deans of major institutions — cannot be trusted to fill out a survey without spinning or massaging the facts, but that is what has become of legal education in this country. When faced with a softening job market, law deans decided to invent a class of fake jobs instead of reporting the stark reality of the situation. That’s really all you need to know about whether or not law school deans can be trusted to report data without independent oversight.

Does the ABA get that? It sure doesn’t sound like it. Here’s the ABA’s response to Boxer’s most recent letter, as reported in the National Law Journal:

Zack issued the following formal statement on Friday: “Senator Boxer shares our concerns and we appreciate the ongoing dialogue we’re having about the important issues of how law students finance their educations and learn about their employment prospects post-graduation. We’re glad the Senator is ‘encouraged’ and ‘pleased’ by what the American Bar Association and its Council on Legal Education have been doing.”

When did the ABA become a running joke that wasn’t funny? Right now trying to get the ABA to understand how people feel about it as an organization is like trying to get Eric Cartman to acknowledge that people hate him. No matter what happens, no matter what people say, the ABA just twists it into something where they can walk around feeling like they are making progress. They’re not making process, and while they refuse to act, law schools are actually just getting better at misleading students. By the time the ABA does come out with new regulations, law schools will have moved on to more advanced methods of messing with the employment statistics.

Well, the ABA can ignore the lawyers they are supposed to be looking out for, but maybe they won’t be able to ignore political pressure. Some people are proposing legislation to get the Department of Education involved, and now a U.S. Senator is asking tough questions. If the ABA wants to keep regulatory authority over law schools, then eventually it will have to regulate them.

Or it will have to get out of the way, so real change can happen.

Boxer Continues to Urge American Bar Association to Improve Accuracy and Transparency of Data Reporting by Law Schools [Barbara Boxer]
ABA President to Boxer: Law Grads Shouldn’t Be ‘Shadowed by Overwhelming Debt’ [ABA Journal]
Boxer has more questions for ABA about law school transparency [National Law Journal]

Earlier: Watch Out, Law Schools: A United States Senator Wants You To Stop Lying
Enough With The ABA; Law Students Appeal to the DOE To Force Law School Transparency
Employment Statistics Shenanigans Open Thread: Which Schools Are Juking Their Stats?

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