How has it come to this?

Most people and institutions jealously guard their credibility. It’s hard to get people to trust you, and nearly impossible to get people to believe you after you’ve abused their trust. Nearly everybody who throws their good name away lives to regret it.

I wonder if member institutions of the American Bar Association are starting to realize that throwing away their credibility for the sake of masking a few bad years of employment statistics is a bad idea. I wonder if they’re starting to get that the American Bar Association’s laissez-faire approach toward transparency is going to have consequences far beyond the yearly bloodsport of the U.S. News law school rankings.

As a couple of elite law schools are learning this week, right now their word and credibility carries significantly less weight than the New York Post’s….

It should be a sad day when you are looking at something in the New York Post versus contradictory information from an Ivy League law school like Columbia, yet you don’t know who to believe. But thanks to years of statistical shenanigans that the ABA didn’t put a stop to, we live in a world where we can’t really trust anything that comes out of the mouth of a law school administrator. It’s like what’s happened in baseball because of the steroids scandal: not every ballplayer took steroids, but all are assumed to be guilty because Major League Baseball did not act to stop the problem.

This week, the law schools at Columbia, NYU, and Fordham have come under fire for their allegedly inflated employment statistics. A story in the New York Post specifically called out the top New York-area law schools for shady reporting of graduate outcomes when it comes to graduates employed by the schools. Paul Campos also wrote a post highlighting the discrepancy between the number of Biglaw jobs reported by the schools versus the National Law Journal’s reporting — where the NLJ gets information directly from employers.

I guess Columbia and NYU aren’t used to being treated like the law schools who seem to inflate employment statistics as part of their business model. Both schools fired back with posts disputing the numbers reported in the Post and on Campos’s blog. You can read Columbia’s response here and NYU’s response here. Essentially both schools claim that not every top-250 law firm reports statistics to the National Law Journal, hence the discrepancy.

It’s not nearly that simple, of course. Campos gets more into the statistics in his rebuttal than the law schools. And the point remains that these schools are still counting a percentage of graduates employed by the law school as “employed upon graduation,” a technical truth that seriously misleads prospective law students who are trying to gauge the legal job market.

But I want to take a step back and look at what we’re really fighting about here: some of the best law schools in New York City have put out a statistic about how many graduates get jobs, and the New York Post and a bunch of other people immediately called “bulls**t.” Think about that. Even if the law schools can somehow convince people that, technically, their published information isn’t riddled with lies, we’re living in a world where such data can be assumed to be false absent a long and detailed explanation and discussion from the law schools. When somebody notices a discrepancy between a school’s numbers and what’s in the newspaper, we assume the school was full of crap, not that the newspaper got it wrong.

That’s not the fault of the New York Post, or Paul Campos, or “the media.” That’s the fault of the American Bar Association. The ABA is supposed to represent lawyers and law schools to the public. It’s supposed to relegate them so that the public can trust that moral and ethical standards are being upheld and enforced. And on that scale, the ABA has been an unmitigated failure. It’s done a disservice to all law schools. Nobody can trust any law school because the ABA has failed to impose effective oversight over all of them.

That’s tragic. A society is supposed to be proud of its institutions of higher learning, but the ABA has robbed us of that pride in our nation’s law schools. We no longer get to feel like our justice system is populated by people trained to the highest ethical standards, because we can’t even trust our law schools to tell us the truth about how many people got hired.

Columbia Law should be able to win a credibility war with the New York freaking Post without firing a shot. The Post can’t even get it straight if Biglaw jobs pay $150K or $160K “out of the gate.”

But if I ask you: “Do New York law schools inflate job figures, true or false?,” how many of you really believe that Columbia and NYU have a shown a fealty to accuracy throughout this downturn?

See, that’s sad. And that’s the ABA’s fault as much as anybody’s.

NY law schools inflate job figures: critics [New York Post]
Law school numbers [Inside the Law School Scam]
Letter to the Editor of NY Post re: Article on Employment Statistics [Columbia Law School]


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