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Sunday, March 18, 2012

WSJ 'Numbers Guy': Law School Placement Data Reporting

Wall Street Journal, The Numbers Guy: Job Prospects for Law Grads? The Jury's Out, by Carl Bialik:

WSJLaw students, lawsuits and law schools' own accrediting body have shed light on a troubling truth for freshly minted legal graduates: Some of the numbers about their predecessors' employment and pay are suspect.

Since the mid-1980s, law schools have surveyed their recent graduates on how they made out in the job market, then reported the results. For many schools, the numbers were surprisingly rosy: employment rates above 90% and starting salaries in the six figures. The data have appeared on schools' websites, in magazines' law-school rankings and in marketing materials aimed at prospective students.

But the numbers aren't what they seem, say some recent graduates, a few of whom have joined lawsuits against their alma maters for allegedly misrepresenting their job prospects. The employment figures include part-time positions, short-term work and jobs for which a juris doctor, or law-school degree, wasn't a requirement or even a help—details not mentioned in many schools' reports. And the salary numbers exclude some alumni who aren't willing to report their wages, a group many believe earns less than those who do disclose their salaries. ...

[M]ore than a dozen schools have been sued, mostly in state courts, by graduates saying they were misled. The lawyers who filed most of the suits said Wednesday they were seeking plaintiffs for 20 more schools. ... One irony: Some of the targeted schools were among the several dozen that in the last few months have voluntarily shared more detailed survey data with Law School Transparency, a nonprofit advocacy group founded in 2009 by two Vanderbilt law students. Those numbers show how many of the reported jobs were in the legal field and how many respondents didn't report their salaries. The figures have aided some suits against these schools. "We've used that," said David Anziska, a New York attorney who has co-filed most of the suits. ,,,

The gulf between bottom-line employment figures and what Mr. McEntee and other critics consider the relevant numbers can be seen in an annual report from the National Association for Law Placement, a legal-careers organization that collates schools' employment-survey results, including data not published by the schools. Last year's report, the latest available, shows that 87.6% of 2010 graduates who responded to the surveys were employed as of Feb. 15, 2011—the lowest rate for the previous year's graduates since 1996. Meanwhile, just 68.4% of graduates who responded were in jobs that required passage of bar exams. And those respondents who reported their salaries represented just half of all employed graduates.

Critics of the law-school data say measures such as the ABA section's more detailed questionnaire won't allay all concerns. Schools gather the data that are used to evaluate them, which critics say poses a conflict of interest. Since at least two schools have admitted to submitting false data on a different subject, the credentials of admitted students, "it would be naive to assume that no law schools have falsified employment numbers," said Brian Tamanaha, a professor at Washington University's law school in St. Louis.

WSJ The Numbers Guy Blog, Law-School Jobs Data Under Review:

My print column examines controversy over how law schools report statistics about the employment of their recent graduates. Each year, schools survey their graduates nine months after graduation and report the numbers. A series of lawsuits filed against the schools claim these numbers have misled potential students, by lumping together all jobs, including ones that don’t require a law-school education and ones that are short-term or part-time. The schools respond that they followed procedures outlined by the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, which accredits the schools.

David Anziska, the New York attorney who has co-filed most of the suits, this week announced 20 more schools he was targeting, seeking plaintiffs to file suits against them. He said that nearly all of the country’s 199 accredited law schools are potential targets, and that the latest schools were chosen because they operate in the same states as do participating law firms — not necessarily because they were particularly egregious. “Nearly every school in the country engages in some sort of manipulation of placement rates,” he said. ...

“The best solution, in my view, is to have law schools highlight one number above all else: What percentage of the graduating class obtained jobs as lawyers,” said Brian Tamanaha, a professor at Washington University’s law school in St. Louis.

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Man, just wait until they start suing all the Psych departments whose graduates aren't employed as Psychologists, and all the History departments whose graduates aren't historians, and all the Political Science departments whose graduates aren't politicians, and all the Women's Studies majors who aren't spending any time studying women...

Where is the survey data that shows that 25% of people entering law school did it because they didn't have any other option and had no real plans to practice law. With that incoming student rate, 60-75% employed in law sounds pretty good to me.

Posted by: Psychology | Mar 18, 2012 2:23:26 PM

Methinks this Psychology guy doesn't really understand what he's talking about.

Posted by: Bobbo | Mar 19, 2012 6:00:52 AM

I don't know what it is about this subject that attracts so many stupid arguments. Law schools are publishing employment statistics that say 90-99% employed, not 60-75%. I don't think those other programs publish employment statistics at all.

Posted by: Fred Smith | Mar 19, 2012 6:36:51 AM

....and we are supposed to feel compassion for lawyers who were misled........

Posted by: kill taker | Mar 19, 2012 7:24:23 AM

I DO think that it would be a good thing if universities were sued for sucking students in to fatten the paychecks of professors and administrators, and spitting them out with no marketable skills.

But I reject the idea that many law school student rack up hundreds of thousands in non-dischargeable student loan debt with no intention of becoming lawyers.

Posted by: Moneyrunner | Mar 19, 2012 7:25:27 AM

I agree with Mr Psychology and hope that any and all departments will publish accurate and audited data, compiled to common and open standards.

That said, will law schools please be honest (for a change, it seems) and simply give an accurate picture of the job prospects, unencumbered by (yes, lawlerly) evasion and shading of data? Your answer makes it seem like you rather agree with the current state of shamefully unforthcoming academics, and bring other disciplines into the fray to muddy the waters.

Posted by: Bill R | Mar 19, 2012 7:28:37 AM

The law school numbers have been deeply crooked, apparently for a long time. They have been that way because crooked numbers benefited the schools for years. The crooked numbers -- alleging for example that 80 per cent of a school's graduates were averaging $80,000 a year -- allowed the schools to keep raising tuition and telling the students it was reasonable because of the money they would make.

Had the law schools told the raw truth -- at Northeastern it might have been "80 per cent of our graduates are averaging $37,000 a year" -- no one would have signed for the huge loans that constituted the school's lifeblood. The school would have collapsed if it told the truth. So it lied.

I assume that these same dynamics--particularly the fact that lent money is the lifeblood--drive most law schools. Some schools were very crooked, and some were a little less so. But the rewards were so huge for lying, and the cost of telling the truth was ruination... so everyone lied. When their consciences hurt a little, the law deans no doubt rationalized like this: I have a mortgage to pay and everyone else is doing it. Why should I be the martyr here?

So it all continued, and so it will continue until the collapse.

Posted by: Lowellguy | Mar 19, 2012 7:31:36 AM

"Congratulations. You have just ruined your life." should be the commencement speech at graduation.

If the employment figures for "legal work" jobs include part-time positions and short-term work, then the actual rate of law school graduates finding real attorney jobs is aroung 50%.

The real chances for a law student is 50/50 for getting a real job after graduation... with (probably) massive student loans plus ever growing interest that can never be discharged in bankruptcy. He/she is now probably a debt slave for the rest of their lives.

Posted by: smart dude | Mar 19, 2012 8:58:35 AM

The ABA allowed too many law schools! We should have less than half the number of accredited schools. It is a supply and demand issue. Medical schools provide an excellent template for what the ABA should have done. I hope the lawsuits put half of all law schools out of business.

Posted by: Pj meade | Mar 21, 2012 2:22:28 PM