American Bar Association / ABA, Law Schools, Rank Stupidity, Student Loans, U.S. News

Law Schools Misreport Debt Figures to the ABA; To No One’s Shock, the ABA Does Nothing

Law school graduates both young and old are living under the heavy weight of student loan debt, but we don’t need to tell our readers that law school costs a pretty penny — they already know. The people who do need to know are those who are thinking of applying to law school. Those people need all of the information that they can get their hands on so that they’re able to make an intelligent decision when choosing a law school.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a way to discern the actual debt loads that recent law school graduates are carrying, if only because law schools have been misreporting the average indebtedness of graduating students to both the American Bar Association and U.S. News and World Report.

Which law schools are guilty of this committing practice? The ABA claims that administrators from “a number” of schools have contacted the organization in order to correct their information about loan debt….

It seems that several law schools have made the “honest mistake” of reporting only one year of indebtedness to the ABA, instead of the indebtedness that students graduate with after three years of schooling. If law school administrators had even a modicum of common sense, then they would have realized their error before misreporting the data to the ABA, which in turn reported the inaccuracies to U.S. News for publication.

So which schools are on the naughty list (that we actually know of)? Thanks to Professor Paul Campos, we found out in July that Rutgers School of Law – Camden had reported inaccurate indebtedness averages to the tune of a $50,023 undercut for the class of 2011 (originally reported as $27,423, later revised up to $80,446).

Also on this list is Barry University School of Law, a school that initially reported an average debt load of approximately $41,190 for the class of 2011. Using this figure, U.S. News included Barry on its list of the schools that lead to the least debt. As it turns out, the actual average debt figure for 2011 graduates was $137,680. We know that lawyers can’t do math, but this is in the realm of sheer absurdity. How embarrassing for everyone at Barry Law.

The University of Kansas School of Law also reported an incorrect number for the school’s average debt load ($41,574), but later revised the number to $67,598. That being said, we bet the administration is thanking its lucky stars for the $1 million donation the school just received for scholarships.

(For the record, Rutgers – Camden and KU Law also made the U.S. News list for the schools that lead to the least post-graduation debt. The list has not been updated since publication. U.S. News, for the love of God and all things holy, if it’s not too much trouble, can we please get an updated list?)

Now that changes to Standard 509 are in place at the ABA — changes that bar law schools from publishing misleading consumer information — you’d think that the ABA would do something about these violations. The WSJ Law Blog has the scoop on the ABA’s intentions:

An ABA spokesman confirmed that a number of law schools had contacted the organization about inaccuracies with their average indebtedness figures, but he declined to comment on specifics. The ABA, he said, has made no determination of intentional misreporting on debt figures.

“We will admit that the requests that we make can sometimes be interpreted in various ways,” the spokesman for the ABA. “Because of that complexity, that’s why we are okay with schools contacting us and allowing them to revise.”

Holy crap, there’s no linguistic complexity here, period. No one cares how much debt a student takes on for one year of law school, because in the grand scheme of things, that figure means absolutely nothing. But once again, the ABA has shown that it hasn’t got any teeth with it comes to sanctioning law schools for their misdeeds. In fact, the ABA spokesman who spoke to the WSJ Law Blog went on to say that schools would only be sanctioned if there were “persistent and substantial misrepresentations in consumer data.”

Since the ABA has made no determination as to the intentional misreporting of debt figures — because, of course, all of these mistakes were totally innocuous — we’ll have to wait and see which law schools decide to own up to their mistakes publicly and report them to U.S. News.

We’ll keep our readers posted if we find out more, but in the meantime, the truth remains unknown as to whether anyone can really trust the true transparency of law schools’ self-generated reports.

UPDATE (3:00 p.m.): Apparently there are even more schools out there reporting inaccuracies as to their students’ indebtedness, including John Marshall Law School and Georgia State University College of Law (also on the U.S. News list for least post-grad debt). Click here for more information from Professor Campos.

Reports of Our (Low) Debt Have Been Greatly Exaggerated [WSJ Law Blog]
10 Law Schools That Lead to the Least Debt [U.S. News & World Report]
No Fudging: Revised Standard Bars Law Schools from Publishing Misleading Consumer Info [ABA Journal]

Earlier: Law School Dean Takes On ‘The Blogs’ But He Doesn’t Have The Facts On His Side

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