Hello again from the 2013 annual education conference of the Association for Legal Career Professionals (aka NALP). People here are very friendly — although, as noted earlier, the law firm folks tend to be more welcoming to us than the law school crew.

That’s to be expected, given our sometimes critical coverage of law schools. We seek to promote consumer awareness when it comes to legal education, but some schools — especially those schools with weaker job outcomes for their graduates — perceive this as an attack.

Yesterday I attended a NALP panel discussion about law school transparency. In the course of discussing what we talk about when we talk about transparency, the panelists provided five defenses that law schools can use when faced with criticism over unemployed or underemployed graduates….

The panel, entitled “Being Transparent About Transparency: How to Talk About, Think About, and Write About Employment Statistics,” featured the following panelists:

  • Mina Jones Jefferson, Assistant Dean for Professional Development, University of Cincinnati College of Law, Moderator
  • Eric Bono, Assistant Dean for Career Opportunities, University of Denver Sturm College of Law
  • Gary J. Greener, Senior Associate Dean for Career, Admissions, and Financial Aid Services, Southwestern Law School
  • Tomea Mayer Mersmann, Associate Dean for Strategic Initiatives, Lecturer in Law, Washington University School of Law

Most of the panel focused on how to deal with the various watchdogs of legal education — the American Bar Association, Law School Transparency, NALP, and U.S. News — and how to comply with their requests for job data. This discussion, focused on logistics and tactics, was surely helpful for the career services personnel in the room.

But I was more interested in the defenses offered by law schools in response to criticism of their graduate employment outcomes, which emerged during the discussion in passing. I distilled them into this list of five:

1. Checking employment status at nine months is unfair to us because we send a high number of our graduates to the types of employers who wait for bar exam results to hire entry-level attorneys or who are otherwise slow in their hiring (e.g., state government or small law firms).

2. Some observers, such as U.S. News and Law School Transparency, don’t value part-time jobs as much as full-time jobs. But some of our graduates — e.g., parents or people with elder care responsibilities — actually prefer part-time jobs.

3. Some observers discount “J.D. advantaged” jobs compared to “J.D. required” jobs. But some of our graduates — e.g., people who want legal knowledge to help them in another field, like the entertainment industry — actually want to work in “J.D. advantaged” jobs as opposed to the practice of law.

4. There are many gray areas and judgment calls when it comes to responding to employment data inquiries from the various authorities. E.g., what is the date of “graduation” for purposes of “employed upon graduation — the date of the ceremony, or the date of the registrar certification? What do you do about a graduate who dies in the middle of a reporting period?

5. We are not always in full control of our messaging and public statements about graduate job outcomes. Our deans and admissions offices pressure us to put the school in the best light. Sometimes what you see coming out of our school is actually a toned-down version; the dean or admissions office wanted to go out with something even more rosy, but we convinced them to tamp it down a bit.

Readers, what do you think? Are these defenses, or excuses? Do you find them persuasive? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Earlier: Homegrown or Not: Law Student Recruiting v. Lateral Hiring


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