Job Searches, Law School Deans, Law Schools, Student Loans

Could Law Schools PLEASE Stop Whining About The Nine Months After Graduation Statistic? You Sound Like Babies.

New Rule: The next law school person who wants to bitch about the unfairness of the “employed nine months after graduation” metric must offer to make loan payments for all students who don’t have a job at nine months until they find one. If law schools are going to knock up their recent graduates they should at least have to throw in some child support.

Oh, wait, NO law school dean wants to actually be on the hook for student loans from when they come due six months after graduation until… whenever this unnamed point in the future comes when students can expect to have jobs. Given that, I don’t really want to hear about how your school is so freaking “unfairly” treated because CONSUMERS of legal education need to know if they will be employed within shouting distance of when they will start having to pay back their loans.

Fine, you want a compromise? It looks like we’re moving to ten months anyway…

NALP executive director Jim Leipold broke some news at last week’s conference. He said that, most likely, the reporting industry would move to looking at employment statistics at ten months after graduation, instead of nine. It’s thought that this move will marginally help law schools in California and New York. In those states, it takes so long for bar results to come out that some students who can’t even credibly start trying for jobs until they pass the bar are overlooked by the nine-month figure.

But Leipold defended the basic idea of looking at employment statistics within a year of graduating. He argued that in terms of “consumer information,” prospective law students deserve to know how likely they are to be employed once their loans come due.

It’s a point that seems to be lost on many law school administrators. Many people who are responsible for graduate employment bitch and moan about the nine-month cutoff like it’s severely undervaluing legal education. Over at The Faculty Lounge, there’s a whole post about this. Professor Ben Barros, who conducted a study of the employment outcomes of Widener Law-Harrisburg graduates from the classes of 2010 and 2011, argues:

None of this is to say that nine-month numbers are not useful or important. They provide an important snapshot of graduate employment. It is perfectly reasonable for students comparing schools to look at nine-month data. It is also reasonable to look at changes in nine-month data over time to track changes in the legal job market over time.

It is not reasonable, however, to treat the nine-month numbers as the final word on employment for a particular class of graduates. Consider three types of claims that could be made about the nine-month data:

(1) The nine month data for schools around the country are lousy compared to prior years. Therefore there is at least some evidence that the legal job market is lousy as compared to prior years.

(2) School X consistently has better nine-month job numbers than School Y. Therefore, School X tends to have better job placement than School Y.

(3) The nine month data show that only X% of graduates of a particular class got legal jobs. Therefore, only X% of that class ever got legal jobs.

The first two claims are fair. The third claim is not, but claims of this form have become increasingly common in commentary on law schools…

In other contexts, conflating nine-month job data with ultimate job performance might be more troubling. It is not at all unusual to see statements to the effect of “law schools are failing because only X% of graduates are getting legal jobs,” where X% is based on nine-month job data. The idea that a huge percentage of law school graduates are not getting jobs as lawyers comes up in places as varied as scamblogs to the editorial pages of the New York Times. Nine month data, however, simply does not tell the whole story of the employment outcomes for any particular graduating class.

This strikes me as the classic law school slight of hand. Schools are quick to blame “the media” for not massaging their employment statistics to put them in the rosiest light, but when you actually ask law schools to give you more information or put any skin in the game, the conversation ends.

Before people hop on the anti-nine-months bandwagon, I have a few questions:

  • Are law schools doing anything to help students who are unemployed at nine months survive until this magical future point when the kids will allegedly get jobs?
  • Are loan officers and collection agencies happy to wait until… whenever?
  • Is there any evidence that shows that jobs attained more than nine months after graduation are as good as those attained before that mark? Because it seems to me that the good jobs are snapped up early and the dregs are what is left after nine months.
  • How long do you have to be unemployed before it’s okay for the media to be concerned about the employment outcomes of “recent” law graduates? A year? Two years?

I don’t think anybody thinks that looking at employment stats at nine months or ten months after graduation is the only way of looking at the job prospects of recent law school graduates. The argument is that it is the most relevant number for people to look at as they are contemplating borrowing huge sums of money to go to law school.

If you want people to focus on their employment prospects years and years after graduation, all you have to do is to explain how they are supposed to make a living between graduation and whenever it is that their education is supposed to start paying off.

Reconsidering the Conventional Wisdom on the Legal Job Market – Part I [Faculty Lounge]

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