NEW YORK, Dec 6 (Reuters) - The American Bar Association on
Saturday approved a comprehensive questionnaire that will ask
law schools to provide substantially more detailed information
on where, how -- and in some cases, if -- their recent
graduates are employed.
The questionnaire, accepted by the ABA's Council of the
Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar at its
final 2011 meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico, was long sought by
critics of the ABA, who say the new data could dramatically
shift the public's view of how healthy the legal job market is
for law school graduates.
"Prospective students will now have the data they need to
make an informed decision about attending law school," said
Douglas Rush, a former lawyer and professor of education at
Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri. "Some students
may look at the numbers and decide it's not worth the
Before 2010, the ABA asked law schools to report only
whether or not their graduates were employed nine months after
graduation. The data did not specify what types of jobs
graduates landed, or whether they were in the legal profession
at all. As a result, many law schools, especially those in the
third and fourth tiers, have been reporting high percentages of
job placement even as firms of all sizes cut back on
entry-level attorney positions.
The new survey asks whether a graduate's job is a
short-term one funded by the university, whether preference is
given to candidates who have earned a law degree, and whether
the job requires passage of the bar exam. The data, which will
be published in the ABA's annual law-school guide, could show
that at many mid-tier schools, as few as half of graduates are
working at full-time jobs that require bar exam passage within
nine months of graduation, Rush said.
"It's going to open some eyes," he said. "There will be
some sticker shock."
'RESORTING TO HALF MEASURES'
The changes come in the wake of persistent pressure from
critics -- including three U.S. Senators -- who have argued
that current requirements allow law schools to report vague and
misleading employment information that paints a too-rosy
picture of the legal job market.
In an October letter to ABA president William Robinson III,
Senator Barbara Boxer of California accused the association of
"resorting to half measures" regarding the gathering
job-placement data, instead of "tackling a major problem
Boxer cited research by Brian Tamanaha, a professor at
Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, Missouri,
concluding that at least 30 law schools sent no more than half
of their 2009 graduates into jobs that required a law degree.
Yet most law schools reported that nearly all their graduates
were employed shortly after graduation. The disconnect is "very
troubling," Boxer wrote.
Along with Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Senator Chuck
Grassley of Iowa, Boxer called on the U.S. Department of
Education to bring additional oversight to law school job-data
Law-school graduates are also pushing for more information.
In some instances, graduates have sued their schools for
tuition refunds based on allegations of fraud. In two lawsuits
filed last August, graduates from Thomas M. Cooley Law School
in Michigan and New York Law School sued their alma maters for
allegedly violating state consumer-protection laws.
The complaints claim that the law schools misrepresent
graduates' employment prospects by counting those who have only
secured part time or temporary jobs as fully employed.
"Forking over nearly $150,000 in tuition payments is a
terrible investment which makes little economic sense and, most
likely, will never pay off," said the complaint in the suit
against New York Law School.
'HARD TO ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS'
Arthur R. Gaudio, dean of Law Western New England
University School of Law in Springfield, Massachusetts, and
chair of the questionnaire committee, said that the need for
more precise and useful data is greater than ever. "Especially
with the economic situation facing the legal profession,
collecting better information has become more and more
important," Gaudio said. "It's the appropriate thing to do."
But Richard Revesz, dean of New York University School of
Law, said that additional questions will be "burdensome" for
law schools to answer. He also noted that new categories such
as "J.D. advantage" -- which refers to legal jobs that call for
a law degree, or non-law positions for which a law degree can
be helpful -- can be ambiguous because it is not always clear
which individuals benefit from having a law degree when working
outside the legal profession.
Revesz acknowledged, however, that the ABA is under
pressure. "I have sympathy for them," he said. "It's hard to
ask the right questions."
Meanwhile, the ABA's Standards Review Committee -- which
revises law-school accreditation rules -- is crafting a
proposal that details what job-placement information a school
will be required to post on its own website. That proposal has
not yet been finalized, but the ABA's legal-education section
has already instituted some changes. For example, law schools
now must submit job-placement data directly to the ABA's
legal-education section. Previously, schools sent their data to
the National Association for Law Placement, or NALP, which then
gave it to the ABA.
'PEOPLE ARE TERRIFIED'
Tamanaha at Washington University called the new
questionnaire "a positive step forward." But he and other
legal-education specialists criticized the ABA for not
requiring the same degree of reporting from law schools for the
2010 graduating class. The questionnaire for that class asked
more detailed information than in the past -- including whether
a graduate's job is funded by the university -- but it did not
ask whether the graduate's work is full time or part-time and
whether it requires a law degree, or if a degree is preferred
for that position.
According to Gaudio, those questions were left off because
committee members couldn't agree on how best to phrase them in
time for data collection. But critics suspect the omission of
those questions was intentional because the jobs picture for
2010 graduates was particularly bleak: According to NALP, the
class of 2010 had the lowest overall employment rate since
1996. Nine months after graduation, 68 percent of 2010
graduates for whom employment status was reported had secured
jobs for which bar passage is required.
"There is no possible justification for" asking schools for
less data on 2010 graduates, said University of Colorado Law
professor Paul Campos, an outspoken critic of the ABA's legal
education section. "People are terrified, and they don't want
to know what the real data looks like."
Tamanaha said he is also concerned that the ABA might not
present job-placement data in a clear, consumer-friendly way.
The data in the annual ABA guide is not well presented, he
said, and simply adding more data could muddle the picture.
Tamanaha suggested the ABA highlight the percentage of
graduates who got jobs as lawyers, and what proportion are
working part-time versus full-time.
"My biggest concern is that the job data charts ... will
provide too much information in a way that conceals what is
important," he said.
(Reporting by Moira Herbst)
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