Washington, Jan 6 (Reuters) - The American Bar Association president's suggestion that unemployed law-school graduates
have no one to blame for their predicament but themselves
elicited a range of reactions from law professors and
administrators at a major law-school conference, with many
expressing dismay at what they called insensitive and misguided
In an interview with Reuters Wednesday, William Robinson,
who became ABA president last August, said, "It's inconceivable
to me that someone with a college education, or a
graduate-level education, would not know before deciding to go
to law school that the economy has declined over the last
several years and that the job market out there is not as
opportune as it might have been five, six, seven, eight years
Some at the conference of the Association of American Law Schools -- the largest annual gathering of law professors --
called the comments tactless.
"A lack of concern for law graduates -- or anyone, for that
matter -- looking for a job in this economy smacks of
questionable character," said Robert Ashford, a professor at
Syracuse University College of Law who founded the AALS's
Section on Socio-Economics, which focuses on economic issues in
the legal profession and in legal education.
Others said Robinson was unfairly picking on students.
"Robinson focuses on the individuals who incurred debt
rather than the institutions that induced them to incur that
debt," said Kathleen Clark, a professor of law at Washington
University in St. Louis. "Individuals can be held responsible
for their decisions, but we should also examine the
responsibility of institutions that have benefited from those
individuals' ill-advised decisions."
'OUT OF TOUCH'
Steven Hobbs, a professor at the University of Alabama
School of Law, was critical of Robinson's comment that he sold
his car to help pay for law school at the University of
Kentucky, from which he graduated in 1971.
"Students are actually doing these things now -- making the
same sacrifices he made," Hobbs said. "Many of them don't have
health insurance and are doing everything they can to attain
"[Robinson] is out of touch in the sense of understanding
the current situation and how to address it," Hobbs said.
But not all disagreed with Robinson's remarks.
"I think [Robinson] is absolutely right," said Paul R.
Baier, a law professor at Louisiana State University. "The dire
economy is obvious. In law we have a doctrine: You are assumed
to know the law. I'd add to that and say you must know the
Robinson did not respond to email or phone messages left
Friday afternoon. An ABA spokeswoman said he was not available
for comment, but said, "We are very concerned about the way
William Robinson's quotes were used out of context by
Robinson's remarks come as the legal job market continues
to sputter. In December, the legal-services industry lost about
1,800 jobs, even as the economy as a whole added 200,000 jobs,
the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced Friday.
The law-school graduating class of 2010 had the lowest
overall employment rate since 1996, according to the National
Association for Law Placement. Nine months after graduation, 68
percent of 2010 graduates for whom employment status was
reported had secured jobs requiring a law degree and admittance
to the bar.
Cornell Law School dean Stuart Schwab said that his
school's 2011 graduates were the hardest hit of Cornell classes
in recent years. "As a citizen, I am personally concerned for
all people who are unemployed," Schwab said. "That extends to
those who graduate from my institution."
Schwab acknowledged that having a law degree may make a job
search easier, "but having six-figure student loan debt changes
the calculus," he said.
'NEED FOR MORE TRANSPARENCY'
Robinson's comments also touched on the ongoing debate over
transparency in the reporting of data by law schools. Critics
including three U.S. senators have asked whether the bar
association does enough to police schools, a handful of which
face allegations that they inflated statistics about
post-graduation employment in order to attract more students.
In 2011, the University of Illinois College of Law and
Villanova University School of Law both admitted to reporting
false admissions-related data.
In the interview with Reuters, Robinson said the number of
schools in question is "no more than four" out of 200 with ABA
accreditation, and that few lawmakers have expressed interest
in the subject.
"It hasn't been a groundswell of comment from Congress," he
David Logan, dean of Roger Williams University School of
Law, who did not attend the conference, said he agreed with
Robinson that "law students are adults who should be expected
to make reasonable decisions about their future." But, he said,
there remains "a broad consensus about the need for more
transparency about costs and outcomes than has been required by
the ABA up to this point."
(Reporting by Moira Herbst; Additional reporting by David
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(A previous version of this story stated that the
University of Illinois College of Law and Villanova University
School of Law both admitted to reporting false data in 2011. To
clarify, the admissions were related to admissions statistics,
not post-graduate employment.)