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Friday, May 20, 2011

Sen. Boxer Again Tells ABA to Get Tough With Law Schools

Following up on my prior post, Sen. Boxer Tells ABA to Get Tough With Law Schools on Reporting Employment Data (Mar. 31, 2011):  Senator Boxer's office sent me this email today:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

May 20, 2011

BOXER CONTINUES TO URGE AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION TO IMPROVE ACCURACY AND TRANSPARENCY OF DATA REPORTING BY LAW SCHOOLS

Senator Recognizes Initial Steps by ABA, But Calls For Stronger Oversight of Reporting by Law Schools and Better Access to Information For Students

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) today wrote a letter to the American Bar Association (ABA) acknowledging the group’s initial steps to address the accuracy and transparency of information for prospective law school students, but also urging the ABA to strengthen its oversight of admissions and post-graduation information reported by law schools and improve access to information for law students across the country. 

Boxer’s letter follows an earlier letter on this subject, which was a response to recent news reports that have highlighted several law schools allegedly using misleading post-graduation employment and salary information to enhance a school’s position in the competitive and influential U.S. News and World Report annual rankings.  Such inaccurate data can mislead prospective law students into believing they will easily be able to find work as an attorney and pay off their loans despite a sharp decline in full-time employment for law school graduates.

The full text of the Senator’s letter is below:

Dear Mr. Zack:

Thank you for your response to my letter regarding the transparency and accuracy of post-graduation employment and salary information reported by law schools. 

I was encouraged to learn that in June the Section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar will be considering recommendations on how the ABA can improve access to accurate and transparent information for prospective law school students.  I view this as a positive step toward improved standards, but before completing its work on these important recommendations, I urge the Section to address some other important issues. 

1.         Independent Oversight

It is troubling that the recommendations do not address the need for independent oversight of the data law school deans submit to the ABA and publications like U.S. News and World Report.  The Section’s recommendations would allow law schools to continue to submit unaudited data, despite the fact that a lack of oversight has been identified by many observers as a major problem. 

The editor of U.S. News and World Report wrote a letter to all law school deans, noting a “crisis of confidence in the law school sector” and asked deans to be more vigilant in their data reporting.  This letter and the recent news that a well-known law school admitted to knowingly reporting inaccurate data to the ABA for years indicates that independent oversight must surely be a part of any reform proposal. 

 2.         Easy Access for Students to Information

The ABA should undertake efforts to ensure that students have easy access to post-graduation employment and salary information.  Prospective students should not have to search far and wide for information so critical to determining their futures.  To achieve this goal the ABA should make it standard practice for law schools to post links to this information on website homepages, and to include these documents in acceptance notices. 

I would be remiss not to mention a very troubling New York Times article on law school merit scholarships.  The article detailed the recent increase in the number of merit scholarships offered by law schools and demonstrated how scholarships are being used to convince students with high LSAT scores to attend lower-ranked law schools. 

While the opportunity to earn a very expensive law degree at a fraction of the cost can be an attractive option for many students, the Times exposed a major problem with scholarship transparency.  Many law schools not only fail to make it clear that prospective students must meet minimum GPA requirements, they also do not disclose how the law school’s grading curve can prohibit all students offered scholarships from maintaining the benefit every year.   

It was reported that at one school, 57 percent of first-year students in one class year received a merit scholarship, but only one-third of the students in that entire class received a GPA high enough to maintain a scholarship.  In the Times article, an ABA official admitted he was unaware of any problems with merit scholarships, and noted that the ABA does not ask schools to report how many students lose their scholarships each year and does not publish any information for prospective students on this subject. 

I look forward to reviewing the results of the Section’s June meeting, as well as your response to the merit scholarship issue.

Sincerely,

Barbara Boxer

United States Senator

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Comments

Maybe the ABA *IS* the problem, or at least a substantial part of it. Law schools churn out thousands of mediocre or worse graduates every year regardless. Why not get out of the way and let markets operate. Good grief. These are *lawyers* in the most litigious society on earth. Let the bubble continue to swell. Let a rash of underemployed grads and dropouts sue the ABA and a few law schools for damages and see what happens then. What Boxer is demonstrating is just more nanny-state behavior: "Let big gov fix it." Stop already.

Posted by: Patrick R | May 23, 2011 8:37:43 AM

How does Boxer's husband profit from her position on this matter?

Posted by: NCBob | May 23, 2011 11:01:15 AM