One of the biggest pieces of actual change coming out of the ABA annual meeting last week was the decision to move the reporting of employment statistics from nine months after graduation to ten months after graduation.
Think about that. We are living through a crisis in legal education. Tuition is skyrocketing, people can’t get jobs, law school applications are cratering. And here the regulating body for American legal education has responded by changing the reporting date for entry-level employment from February 15th to March 15th.
If you think that is a colossally dumb waste of everybody’s time, think about how much time and effort went into all the reports and debates leading up to this change. I mean, this is what the ABA has been fiddling with while legal education burns.
Moving the deadline seems like a classic ABA-type decision that doesn’t actually help anybody achieve anything. But, I can’t even get that angry about it because it’s such a waste of time….
In one corner, we have legal education reformers, who are appropriately appalled by moving employment reporting back yet another month. The National Law Journal has good quotes from Ohio State University law professor Deborah Jones Merritt, who explains as well as anybody why this is yet another BS decision by the ABA:
Ohio State University law professor Deborah Merritt identified five potential problems with the change, including that moving the data would make it impossible to conduct a head-to-head comparison with data from previous years, and that the change could “further diminish public trust in law schools and the ABA.”…
Moreover, moving the collection date back one month would make it difficult to compile and release the statistics before would-be law students must put down deposits to secure their place in a school, Merritt wrote.
Reformers point out that the collection should be at six months, when students’ loans come due. They point out the overwhelming rationality of having students know whether or not they’ll be employed at the point when they’ll have to start paying for their education.
In the other corner, we have law school administrators and their allies, some of whom honestly believe that looking at employment stats nine months after graduation severely under-reports the employment outcomes of their graduates:
“The interest here is in getting accurate information about graduate employment, “ said Council member Rebecca Berch, Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court. “Legal education has taken a lot of hits because of people not being reported as employed. If going out a month helps to better capture that information, I think we should do it.”
Administrators would rather release employment data 12 or even 18 months after graduation. Because hey, after 18 months, there’s a good chance that everybody in the class will have had some sort of job. There’s only so long the human body can go without food.
Ten months is a compromise position, and really, it’s the dumbest compromise position possible. Ten months further frustrates transparency for prospective law students, while also failing to capture the employment outcomes for people who can only legitimately start their job searches until after they receive notification that they’ve passed a bar exam. It’s one thing for a compromise to leave neither side happy, but here the ABA has achieved a compromise that makes no sense. It’s like watching a married couple who can’t decide on whether to order Chinese or Italian for dinner so they end up taking vitamin supplements provided by Lt. Kendrick.
The right solution, as I’ve argued before, would be to report employment stats even more frequently — at, say, six months, 12 months, and 18 months after graduation. We’re talking about information; if some law school people feel the current information doesn’t accurately reflect their value, they should release more information, not less.
But releasing more data requires more work on the part of law schools. More work requires more resources. Asking law schools to put more resources into helping prospective students make more educated decisions about going to law school is like asking rapists to blow their own whistle. Nearly every conversation I have with a law school dean goes something like this:
ME: You should put more money into your career service office.
DEAN: Well aren’t you the fat hypocrite. Putting more money into CSO means that I have to raise tuition and you’ll kill me for it.
ME: NO. You put MORE money into CSO and LESS money into the fifth-best Constitutional Law professor on your faculty.
DEAN: Mwahahahahahahahaha. [Whispering] Actually, I’d love to do that. But… the faculty… they have my kids… if I don’t offer competitive salaries, they’ll hurt my children. [Weeping] What am I supposed to do?
ME: YOU COULD ACT LIKE A MAN.
Look, most of the deans get it. I was at one of the meetings for the Task Force on Legal Education. Kent Syverud, Dean of the Washington University School of Law, straight-up said that “law professors and law deans are paid too much.”
But nobody is going to cut their own salary. Law schools are not going to reallocate resources in a way that makes sense given the current market realities. And so… ten months!
Nobody really thinks that pushing employment data collection back a month is going to matter a whole lot in the grand scheme of things. The people making these decisions know what the real problems are; they just don’t have the will to address them. And as long as the government continues to subsidize this legal education boondoggle, law schools and the ABA can continue to ignore reality and offer incremental changes in response to massive problems.
ABA Changes Graduate Data Collection Timeline [National Law Journal]