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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Sen. Boxer Accuses ABA of Not Adequately Policing Law School Data Reporting

Barbara-Boxer For the third time (Mar. 31, 2011; May 20, 2011), Sen. Barbara Boxer has accused the ABA of not adequately policing law school reporting of admissions and post-graduation employment information:
Boxer Urges ABA to Take Stronger Steps to Protect Law School Students  

Senator Calls for Tougher Measures to Address Misleading Information on Post-Graduation Employment, Merit Scholarships

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) sent a letter today calling on the American Bar Association to increase its efforts to protect current and prospective law school students from misleading information from law schools on post-graduation employment and merit scholarships. 

In the letter, Senator Boxer noted that the ABA's Section of Legal Education recently started to address deficiencies in current post-graduation employment and salary reporting requirements, but she expressed disappointment that the group decided not to require law schools to report the percentage of their graduates working in the legal profession or the percentage of graduates working in part-time legal jobs in its upcoming questionnaire. This information is critical to ensuring that prospective law school students know what their real jobs prospects are before they commit to a costly legal education.

Senator Boxer wrote, "In a year when a number of lawsuits alleging consumer protection law violations have been filed against ABA law schools, when major newspapers have devoted thousands of words to problems with law school reporting practices, and when two United States Senators have encouraged significant changes to your policies, it is surprising that the ABA is resorting to half measures instead of tackling a major problem head on."

The Senator also raised concerns about the failure of the ABA's Section of Legal Education to address the need for independent oversight and auditing of statistics reported by law schools, which could help prevent the type of abuses that have been reported recently at some law schools.

Senator Boxer urged the ABA to take steps to address a disturbing trend where law schools are luring talented prospective students with merit scholarships without adequately disclosing the risks involved and the conditions that will ultimately lead many of those students to lose their scholarships.

The full text of the letter is below:

October 6, 2011

Wm. T. Robinson III
President
American Bar Association
321 North Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60654-7598

Dear Mr. Robinson:

Following the previous correspondence between your predecessor and me concerning law school reporting practices, I am writing to address some unresolved issues.  While I applaud the American Bar Association's Section of Legal Education for addressing other deficiencies with current post-graduation employment and salary reporting requirements, I was very disappointed to learn that the Section decided not to require that law schools report the percentage of their graduates working in the legal profession or the percentage of graduates working in part-time legal jobs in its upcoming questionnaire. 

In my two previous letters to your predecessor, I indicated my strong belief that the ABA should ensure that post-graduation employment data provided to prospective law students is truthful and transparent.  His responses appeared to indicate a similar interest, but unfortunately it is difficult to square those previous statements with the Section's recent decision. 

According to The National Law Journal, a Washington University law professor has determined that for the Class of 2009, at least thirty law schools had 50 percent or fewer of their graduates in jobs that required a law degree.  Data published by the National Association for Law Placement indicates that since 2001, only two- thirds of graduates from all ABA-approved law schools obtained legal jobs.

However, we know that most law schools report that nearly all of their students have jobs shortly after graduation.  The difference between the information reported by schools and the real legal employment rate for recent graduates is very troubling.  That is why requiring law schools to accurately report the real legal employment rate of their graduates is so important. 

In a year when a number of lawsuits alleging consumer protection law violations have been filed against ABA law schools, when major newspapers have devoted thousands of words to problems with law school reporting practices, and when two United States Senators have encouraged significant changes to your policies, it is surprising that the ABA is resorting to half measures instead of tackling a major problem head on. 

I also continue to have concerns about the lack of transparency for prospective law students in other areas:

Independent Oversight

The Section of Legal Education failed to address the overwhelming need for independent oversight and auditing of statistics reported by law schools.  In September, the University of Illinois was found to have been inaccurately reporting law school admissions statistics, the second such school to have done so in recent months.  In addition, many lawsuits have been filed alleging that law schools are violating various state consumer protection laws and false advertising laws.  

These developments are very troubling, and without independent verification of the information reported by law schools, the opportunity to file inaccurate reports will remain. 

Merit Scholarships

As I noted in a previous letter, the New York Times has 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 fail disclose how the school's grading curve and scholarship conditions can combine to prevent the student from understanding the scholarship's real value.   

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 could  receive a GPA high enough to maintain their scholarships.  Students should have more information about the risks of accepting merit scholarships so that they can make fully-informed decisions about their future.  

I appreciate the ABA's willingness to make some changes to its reporting requirements, but I believe it is in the best interest of law students everywhere for the ABA to address these remaining issues as soon as possible.  I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Barbara Boxer
United States Senator

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Comments

This could be the first time in history that a letter changed the behavior of an opportunist. Or it could be the billionth time in history that the opportunist laughed at such a letter. My money's on the latter.

Posted by: anon | Oct 6, 2011 6:44:31 PM

Senator Boxer's absolutely right and it's sad that the ABA is so unwilling to even provide transparent information. Maybe the AMA will adopt us lawyers and be a more effective guild.

Posted by: ry | Oct 7, 2011 5:54:04 AM

Perhaps she could also take up the cause of "hey, ABA, stop accrediting new law schools; we have enough already. if the antitrust laws are in your way. then we, Congress, will fix that." It seems all the existing law schools could cut their law school class sizes in half, but new ones would spring up to fill the void; or Cooley would just add more campuses.

Posted by: Kenny | Oct 7, 2011 6:45:43 AM

The government has the means at its disposal to compel a species of disclosure - the detailed status of every law school student loan (in payment, deferral, default, etc.) for *every* law school.

Some of this information is currently available from the government but in a uselessly aggregated form (for a university as a whole, as opposed to segmented out by individual school within the university).

By telling the world how many law school graduates are in payment, deferral, or default (by school and by cohort year) the government can *immediately* provide a degree of useful disclosure.

Without waiting on the worse-than-useless ABA to do a damn thing.

Posted by: sc721 | Oct 7, 2011 7:29:29 AM

The Bar is a cartel to inhibit free trade in services. The complaint is that the people who spend money to get "member of cartel" status are being lied to by members of the cartel, so that they will pay more for the worthless memberships?

"It is ok to cheat people who are not in the cartel, but these people who you cheated when they were not in, are now in, and remember that you cheated them. Stop cheating people who might join our cartel."

Posted by: Donm | Oct 7, 2011 7:34:34 AM

If “senator” Boxer were more interested in getting to the bottom of “Fast and Furious,” the Solyndra affair, the Fannie and Freddie mess, attorney hiring practices at the DOJ, and senate ethics, I’d be a lot more impresed in her concern for how lawyers attract bewildered, naive, youthful dupes to their racket. Actually, on second thought . . . nah, not really.

Posted by: Granus | Oct 7, 2011 10:14:17 AM