The battle for greater law school transparency, for more accurate and complete information from law schools regarding the jobs obtained (or not obtained) by their graduates, has many fronts. Some advocates for transparency work through organizations, such as the Tennessee non-profit Law School Transparency. Some have turned to the political process, where the issue of transparency has attracted the attention of several United States senators. And some have looked to litigation, suing law schools for providing allegedly misleading data about post-graduate employment outcomes.
Here’s an interesting idea: what if law schools just started posting comprehensive, accurate employment data on their websites? On a voluntary basis — not compelled by politicians, lawsuits, or the American Bar Association (ABA)?
Wouldn’t that be great? And wouldn’t it be helpful to prospective law students trying to decide whether it’s worth investing three years of their lives, and a large amount of (often borrowed) money, to pursue a law degree at the school in question?
Take a look at what they’re now doing at the University of Chicago Law School. Could it perhaps serve as the model for law school reporting of employment data?
If you surf over to the law school’s website, you’ll see detailed job data for the University of Chicago’s classes of 2010, 2009, and 2008. Tables show the following information:
- employment rates for nine months after graduation, with breakdowns for various categories (e.g., bar passage required, JD preferred, non-professional);
- the types of employment held by employed graduates, with the “law firm” category broken down even further by firm size;
- the geographic destinations and most popular employment locations of graduates;
- full-time salaries of employed graduates (with percentile distributions, medians, and means, for different sectors); and
- first post-clerkship job choices, for those graduates who clerked.
It’s a treasure trove of information — and there are very few missing data points. For the three profiled classes, there is a grand total of one (1) person whose employment status seems less than clear (the class of 2010 member who’s reported as employed, but with the nature of the job not specified). In other words, we’re not looking at a situation where self-reporting by a handful of graduates lucky enough to land lucrative jobs has generated inflated statistics as to employment and average income.
The salary data is (or “are,” if you want to quibble) robust as well. For the class of 2010, for example, there are 180 salaries for 191 employed graduates, or 94 percent. All three classes, in fact, have salary reporting rates north of 90 percent for the employed graduates.
For law schools that claim it’s impossible to obtain comprehensive and reliable data on their graduates’ employment status or salaries, the University of Chicago information stands as a powerful rebuttal — or harsh indictment, depending on your point of view. One can’t help wondering, with respect to law schools that profess ignorance about their graduates’ employment status or salaries, whether there’s some willful blindness at work.
I spoke with Dean Michael Schill about the University of Chicago Law School’s new approach to the reporting of its graduates’ employment data. Here’s a (lightly edited and condensed) account of our conversation.
Chicago’s new approach to reporting jobs data for its graduates is great; congratulations. What prompted you to make these changes?
I’m really delighted about our initiative to provide transparency on employment data. We are very proud of our employment stats and are delighted to release them in detail. I hope that publicizing this information on our website will encourage other law schools to report their statistics with the same level of granularity and with equal candor. I should note that Yale Law School already makes this data available on its website, and we have adopted their template for our own reporting.
My own view is that the value proposition of going to the University of Chicago Law School is as strong today as it has ever been. Not only will students get a transformative legal education, but the overwhelming proportion of students who want a high-paying job in a major law firm will be able to obtain one. Similarly, the Law School’s recent creation of a public interest law program with generous financial support makes us extremely competitive in that sector as well.
How does the new reporting format differ from your prior format?
In our prior format, we tended to do what everybody else did, in terms of providing requested information to the ABA and to NALP. But we’ve also done more in the past than some other schools. For example, we publish in our law school magazine where our graduating students are going. We list the firms, judges, and other employers who are hiring our graduates. People liked and appreciated that information. Since we already have so much of the data, we’ve decided to make it public, in aggregated form.
Did the current public debate about law schools and law school transparency contribute to your decision to provide more detailed information about your graduates’ job outcomes?
Right now there’s this awful feeling in the air about the legal profession and law schools, fueled by things like the New York Times articles by David Segal, suggesting that it’s crazy for people to be going to law school or that schools are trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes. That is not the case, at least not here at Chicago.
Our students are getting jobs, and we are happy about that. There is an independent value to going to law school — it’s an interesting experience, it helps shape your mind — but it’s a professional school, and people do want jobs when they graduate. If you read some newspapers, you’d almost get the impression that nobody is getting jobs any more. That’s false.
If you can get into a school like Chicago, I’d tell you to run, don’t walk, and come. It’s a great decision.
But there certainly are risks attached to going to law school, correct?
We’re all getting painted with the same brush. I do think that if I were a student looking at law school, I’d be careful about what law school I go to. I don’t think the opportunities that present themselves to students are the same in every school.
If I could get into a top-tier law school — and you can define “top-tier” in different ways — I would be confident that I would come out with a good job. For other law schools, outside the top tier, what we’re finding is that some students are doing middle of the road to even better than middle of road, and still not getting good job opportunities. So I would be careful.
I noticed that you were able to achieve almost 100 percent reporting. Other law schools talk about the difficulty in tracking down their graduates. Do you have any recommendations?
We’re really good about staying in touch. It’s a priority of our career services office. Of course, it helps to have 200 students as opposed to 500 students. We’re a smaller school, so everything is more personal. We know where our students are and what they are doing.
One question is: How hard do you look for your graduates? We’re happy to find our graduates, and we’re not afraid or ashamed of what we’ll learn when we find them. We know that they’ll be employed, and we want to keep up with them, to build and maintain a great alumni population.
What advice would you offer to current law school applicants or people thinking about applying to law school in the future?
Do your research. The law school process requires due diligence. Certainly law schools have not been as transparent as they could be about the employment of their graduates.
This is one issue you’re starting to see schools address, and one of the reasons we’re putting this data out. We are proud of this, and we want other schools to join us.
But will other law schools join Chicago and Yale in providing such in-depth reporting on graduate employment outcomes? That’s the $64,000 — or $150,000, given the cost of law school these days — question.
For schools that consider themselves to be peers or competitors of Yale and Chicago, this is a no-brainer: they should report graduate job data in at least as detailed and as granular a fashion. If they don’t, students choosing between them and schools like Yale and Chicago should feel free to draw an adverse inference from silence. It’s fair for a prospective law student to ask, “You say your graduates do so well in the job market; why aren’t you willing to give me the data to support your claims?”
The far more difficult problem is getting schools a bit farther down in the rankings to report at this level. But as we know from, say, the Biglaw bonus market, the legal profession is marked by a considerable amount of lemming-like behavior in pursuit of prestige. Why can’t this (completely human and understandable) desire to swim with the big fish, which works so effectively in the law firm compensation market, be harnessed in service of law school transparency?