As we mentioned in Morning Docket, new employment numbers just came out, and it’s an old story of a soft job market.

Only 56 percent of the class of 2012 secured full-time, long-term legal employment within nine months of graduation. In this economy, that passes as good news because that figure is up one percent from last year. It’s kind like telling a terminally ill patient that his parking tickets got dismissed.

Law School Transparency reports that when you exclude school-funded jobs, the employment number falls to 55 percent. And there is more bad news when you dive deeper into the statistics.

But this is the class of 2012, the first class that really should have known that this was going to happen….

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On Friday, the American Bar Association released the employment data for the class of 2011 that they collected from their member law schools. By dumping the information on a summer Friday, perhaps the ABA was hoping that nobody would notice the statistics?

Well, we noticed. The numbers are too bad not to notice. Earlier this month we reported on the NALP employment data, and the ABA data here doesn’t look any better. Only 55% of people in the class of 2011 are known to have found employment in full-time legal jobs.

And really, that’s the nice way of putting it….

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Kyle McEntee (left) and Patrick Lynch (right), co-founders of Law School Transparency (LST).

Late last year, plaintiffs’ lawyer David Anziska pledged to make 2012 “the year of law school litigation.” Anziska, who’s currently spearheading efforts to sue law schools over allegedly misleading employment statistics, told my colleague Staci Zaretsky that he and his team members “want to sue as many law schools as we can to bring them into the fray.”

That’s all well and good — for plaintiffs’ lawyers, and for news outlets like ours seeking juicy stories to cover. But there are other ways to achieve reform. So here’s another thought: Could 2012 instead be the year of law school transparency? Transparency achieved voluntarily, by law schools coming forward on their own to share comprehensive data about how their graduates are faring in the job market?

In the weeks since we wrote about the University of Chicago Law School providing very detailed employment data about its recent graduating classes, based on our interview with Dean Michael Schill, we’ve heard from deans, professors, alumni and students of other law schools, all with similar messages. They believe that their schools, like Chicago, are also transparent about graduate employment outcomes — and they want to be recognized for it.

This chorus of “me too!” messages raises a promising possibility: Is law school transparency becoming, for lack of a better word, “cool”? Will honesty about employment data become the hot new trend for U.S. legal education?

Perhaps. But there’s still a long way to go, as shown by a report issued this week by Law School Transparency….

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* Some people regret going to law school; Rachel Kramer Bussel regrets not finishing. But she wound up at the same delicious destination as so many JDs, namely, cupcakes. [The Gloss and Cupcakes Take the Cake]

* Speaking of law school, Professor Dan Filler asks: Despite all the gloom and doom, is now actually an ideal time to apply? [The Faculty Lounge]

* Still on the law school beat, here’s the latest proposal from the LST gang on how to improve the reporting of employment outcomes. [Law School Transparency]

It's Britney, b**ch.

* Deal flow was fabulous in the first quarter of 2011 — and the M&A boom shows no signs of letting up. [Am Law Daily]

* Sue me baby one more time? Everyone wants a piece of her. [Radar Online]

* Bad news for same-sex, bi-national married couples confronting immigration issues. [Poliglot / Metro Weekly]

* A few law firms made this list of best 401(k) plans. [Bloomberg Businessweek]

* Here’s an interesting (and free) program coming up, “JD in the New Economy: Multiple Perspectives.” [West LegalEdcenter]

Guys, this is my bad. I made a mistake. You see, back in September, Ave Maria School of Law said it was going to do something. And me, silly fool that I am, believed them. I know, I know, I’m an idiot. What kind of person actually believes Ave Maria will keep its word?

In September, Ave Maria announced that it would be the first law school to adopt the proposals set out by the Law School Transparency project for employment reporting by law schools.

And now they’ve gone back on their word. Ave Maria has informed the LST people that they will not let people applying to Ave Maria know what they’re getting into. The school has decided that it doesn’t want to be “first,” and they’re punting the issue back to the ABA.

It’s just amazing to me when an institution of higher education can’t even keep its word….

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Above the Law’s 2010 Lawyer of the Year contest is now over. Thanks to everyone who nominated a lawyer; thanks to our finalists, for being such accomplished and interesting individuals; and thanks to all the voters, who picked our victor.

Here are ATL’s past Lawyers of the Year:

Two famous figures, and one anonymous one. A man, a woman, and an individual of unknown gender.

For 2010, who will join their distinguished ranks? Let’s find out….

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Last week, the people at the Law School Transparency project scored a major victory. They got U.S. News to agree to disclose all of the employment information the magazine collects about law schools, with the release of next year’s influential rankings.

According to stories around the blogosphere, U.S. News rankings guru Robert Morse is even giving the LST people credit for pushing the magazine in this direction. U.S. News, mind you, has more power over law schools than the freaking American Bar Association — but it was influenced by two young guys from Vanderbilt. Check out coverage from the ABA Journal, the WSJ Law Blog, and the National Law Journal (subscription). Major kudos to Team LST!

The changes are good, but they’re not the Holy Grail of law school transparency. U.S. News won’t be collecting any additional information. Schools will still be able to materially misrepresent some of their crucial employment statistics, and U.S. News is not increasing the weight given to outcome-oriented metrics in its rankings methodology.

It’s definitely progress, but as long as the ABA refuses to wield its regulatory power, there’s only so much a magazine can do…

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The following will shock no one who has been paying attention to how law schools are trying to openly game the U.S. News law school rankings and mislead prospective law students. When it comes time to collect employment data, law schools are selectively surveying their graduates: they’re seeking survey responses from employed graduates, while ignoring graduates who are unemployed. They’ve been playing this game at least since the recession started.

And now we have evidence. A tipster emailed pretty much everybody in the legal blogosphere spilling the dirt on how his law school is trying to inflate employment statistics. He claims that the directive from his law school is not at all subtle. If you are employed, the school hounds you to complete a graduate employment survey. If you are unemployed, the school would like you to ignore it. That way, when the school hears from U.S. News or NALP or the ABA — or Law School Transparency, which just issued another request to law schools for more comprehensive employment data — law school officials can throw up their hands and say, “It’s so hard to get our graduates to fill out a jobs survey.”

Still confused about how law schools massage the facts? Let this tipster explain it to you….

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Back in April, we reported on an admirable organization called Law School Transparency. The goal of LST: “encouraging and facilitating the transparent flow of law school employment information.”

Given what’s typically at stake — three years of your life, and six figures of cash (or student loans) — the decision to attend law school is an important one. There’s a case to be made in favor of law school, and there’s a case to be made against it. (For the case against, see pretty much any post about law school by my colleague, Elie Mystal, or any of the bloggers on this blogroll.)

Regardless of the ultimate outcome, the decision should be made based on accurate and complete information. And that information should include data about employment outcomes for graduates of a given law school. If I get a J.D. from law school X, what kind of job can I expect to obtain?

This is where Law School Transparency (LST) comes in. What is LST doing to advance the ball in reporting employment data from law schools?

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Lat here. Today’s topic: transparency in how law schools report their graduates’ “employment outcomes” — i.e., the jobs that their graduates obtain.

When we attended admitted students’ weekend at Yale Law School — back in 1996, so almost 15 years ago — we were given detailed lists showing where the past few classes ended up working. The graduates were listed in alphabetical order, and below each person’s name was the name and address of their employer. For prospective law students, it was reassuring to see so many federal judicial clerkships and large law firms on these lists. The implicit message: if you graduate — or when you graduate, since we’re talking about YLS, not known for failing people (although it does have grades) — you will be able to secure a good job.

Alas, we understand that not all law schools are so forthcoming about where their alumni end up working (or not working, in this economy). There have been widespread allegations of law schools gaming the system, by massaging or manipulating the employment data they report to the American Bar Association and, perhaps even more importantly, to U.S. News & World Reports (for use in the magazine’s highly influential law school rankings). There have even been claims of law schools outright lying about how many of their graduates wind up employed, where they end up working, and how much they earn from these jobs.

Most observers are content just to complain about law schools not being forthcoming enough about employment information. But two enterprising law students at Vanderbilt — Kyle McEntee and Patrick Lynch, a 2L and 3L, respectively — are doing more. They’ve started a nonprofit organization, Law School Transparency, which has the goal of “encouraging and facilitating the transparent flow of law school employment information.” They’ve also written a paper, A Way Forward: Improving Transparency in Employment Reporting at American Law Schools (SSRN download), proposing a new approach to reporting of job outcomes by law schools.

More details and links — plus commentary from Elie, who feels strongly about this issue — after the jump.

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