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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Placement Data Controversy Hits Elite Law Schools

Following up on Monday's post, NY Post: Columbia, NYU, Fordham Law Schools Inflate Employment Stats:

Are they all lying? Or just careless—conveniently so?

Maybe we've all been too snobby, assuming that only low-ranking law schools cook their employment data to reel in gullible students. So far, at least, it's the lower-tier schools like New York Law School and Cooley Law School that are getting hit with class action suits by former students for promulgating false job data.

But here's the shocker: Even top schools like Columbia and NYU (number four and number six, respectively, in the latest U.S. News and World Report) may be playing fast and loose with their job numbers. Both schools had to "revise" their stats after The New York Post asked them for detailed information.

Both schools are speaking up. Essentially, they take issue with how the NLJ gathered its data and the way the Post wrote the article. Specifically, they argue that the NLJ's data was incomplete because some firms do not report their hiring to that publication.

But that's where the similarity between the two schools ends. While Columbia's response was fairly short and concise, NYU kind of went to town, lambasting the NLJ and the Post for being inaccurate if not unfair. More curious, though, is NYU's personal attack on University of Colorado Law School professor Paul Campos, who was quoted in the Post. NYU titled the press release (is that what it is?) "Lies, damned lies, and (law school) statistics," with the subheads "Professor Paul Campos and his tainted numbers" and "Inaccuracy wrapped in innuendo inside omission: The New York Post weighs in."

Much more colorful than your average press release, but kind of over the top. It certainly seems like a lot of internecine score settling. (Is NYU particularly angry that Campos, in one of his posts, mentioned that the law school's 40 percent placement rate with big firms is not worth the cost of its tuition, which he says is "realistically pushing $250K?")

I find that the indignation and sarcasm of NYU's statement distract from the arguments that it's trying to make. Frankly, it didn't help that NYU started its tirade with sanctimony that's almost worthy of parody (in italics, no less!), "Truth can be hard to pin down . . . so it is with the many statistics that journalists and others are offering up these days about law schools." Oy. ...

In the end, though, I think it's all a confusing mess. The fundamental questions remain unanswered: Are law schools fibbing about their placement record? Or are the discrepancies the result of misunderstandings (or loopholes)?

In any case, it's interesting how even the sacred cows of legal education—namely, the top schools—are being questioned about their veracity. Also fascinating is how these schools are feeling defensive as a result. All in all, that's not a bad thing.

  • Inside the Law School Scam, Say Anything, by Paul Campos (Colorado):

This chart shows a comparable collapse in big law hiring at most elite law schools for the class of 2009, which continued and deepened for the classes of 2010 and 2011. [CLlick on chart to enlarge.]

Chart

It should be a sad day when you are looking at something in the New York Post versus contradictory information from an Ivy League law school like Columbia, yet you don’t know who to believe. But thanks to years of statistical shenanigans that the ABA didn’t put a stop to, we live in a world where we can’t really trust anything that comes out of the mouth of a law school administrator. It’s like what’s happened in baseball because of the steroids scandal: not every ballplayer took steroids, but all are assumed to be guilty because Major League Baseball did not act to stop the problem.

This week, the law schools at Columbia, NYU, and Fordham have come under fire for their allegedly inflated employment statistics. A story in the New York Post specifically called out the top New York-area law schools for shady reporting of graduate outcomes when it comes to graduates employed by the schools. Paul Campos also wrote a post highlighting the discrepancy between the number of Biglaw jobs reported by the schools versus the National Law Journal’s reporting — where the NLJ gets information directly from employers. ...

[S]ome of the best law schools in New York City have put out a statistic about how many graduates get jobs, and the New York Post and a bunch of other people immediately called “bulls**t.” Think about that. Even if the law schools can somehow convince people that, technically, their published information isn’t riddled with lies, we’re living in a world where such data can be assumed to be false absent a long and detailed explanation and discussion from the law schools. When somebody notices a discrepancy between a school’s numbers and what’s in the newspaper, we assume the school was full of crap, not that the newspaper got it wrong.

That’s not the fault of the New York Post, or Paul Campos, or “the media.” That’s the fault of the American Bar Association. The ABA is supposed to represent lawyers and law schools to the public. It’s supposed to relegate them so that the public can trust that moral and ethical standards are being upheld and enforced. And on that scale, the ABA has been an unmitigated failure. It’s done a disservice to all law schools. Nobody can trust any law school because the ABA has failed to impose effective oversight over all of them.

That’s tragic. A society is supposed to be proud of its institutions of higher learning, but the ABA has robbed us of that pride in our nation’s law schools. We no longer get to feel like our justice system is populated by people trained to the highest ethical standards, because we can’t even trust our law schools to tell us the truth about how many people got hired.

Columbia Law should be able to win a credibility war with the New York freaking Post without firing a shot.

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Comments

"We no longer get to feel like our justice system is populated by people trained to the highest ethical standards, because we can’t even trust our law schools to tell us the truth about how many people got hired."

And just who, besides lawyers, ever believed that lawyers had ethical standards? For proof, look at Congress which is mainly lawyers.

Posted by: Sam Hall | Mar 18, 2012 1:22:53 PM

Why does reading about the fiery immolation of lawyers bring a smile to my face? May God forgive me for taking pleasure in the misfortune of beings who, I firmly believe, are people.

Posted by: Moneyrunner | Mar 18, 2012 2:53:54 PM

After turning this against "nonelite" schools, it's about time.

Posted by: mike livingston | Mar 19, 2012 5:26:32 AM