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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Henderson: ABA Employment Data Will Fundamentally Reshape Legal Education

Following up on my previous post, ABA: Only 55.2% of the Class of 2011 Have Full-Time Long-Term Legal Jobs:  The Legal Whiteboard: These Data Will Fundamentally Reshape the Legal Education Industry, by William D. Henderson (Indiana):

Now, with the ABA employment "phonebook" in spreadsheet format, those a with modicum statistical skills and an internet connection can analyze, simplify and ... publish truly relevant and useful information [on] the decision to attend law school. ... If I am applying to law school, my minimum hope is that nine months after graduation I will be able to obtain a full-time, permanent professional job.  The phonebook has three columns of data that speak to this hope:

  1. Bar Passaged Required Jobs, FTLT (i.e., Full-time, Long-Term)
  2. JD-Advantage Jobs, FTLT
  3. Professional Jobs, FTLT. 

All the other myriad data columns, parsing things by part-time, short-term, non-professional, unemployed, unknown, etc., do not meet the minimum hope.  So they are lumped together as “Other Outcomes.”  Clearly, for 1/3 of the Class of 2001, their full-time, permanent professional ambitions have not yet materialized. 

A reasonable next question is how these figures vary by U.S. News rank. The answer is reflected in the chart below.

Outcomes_bar

...  As I have said previously (here and here), the current legal job market reflects a structural change in the legal sector -- these numbers aren’t going to turn around in a year or two.

So what is going to happen?  Notwithstanding the heady optimism of the "Kaplan kids", the ABA employment data, thanks to the blogosphere, is going to reduce information costs, making it easier for prospective law students to determine whether law school is a good investment.  ... 

The utter transparency of a changing and stagnant legal market has potentially more dire consequences for law schools.  The lifeblood of the entire legal education establishment, including elite law schools, is federal student loans.  Our students get the same generous terms as graduates of medical and dental schools, who are not struggling to make six figure incomes.  The graphs above suggest that a large proportion of our students will be on Income-Based Repayment (IBR), which is -- functionally -- insurance in the event a high income fails to materialize in the years following graduation.  The downside risk of that insurance -- lack of repayment of expected principal and interest -- is borne by U.S. taxpayers. 

Right now, it is possible to estimate size and probability of this downside risk. All the Federal Government has to do is add-up the shortfall between the repayment of principal and interest in normal repayment versus the monies actually being collected.  What percentage of graduates are on IBR?  What portion of their current principal and interest are they able to pay?  These are simple numbers that some enterprising journalist will eventually request. Further, they are legitimate public policy questions that we, the legal academy, should face long before the journalists get there.

Lawyers and law schools are not a favored interest group on Capitol Hill.  We need to plan for the extremely high probability that the financing of law schools will be dramatically altered in the years to come.  The longer we wait, the more painful and disastrous the transition.  Every law school will need a damn good story to justify continued federal loans.  And right now, many of us lack that story -- being in Tier 1 or T14 (where debt loads tend to be the highest) won't mean anything if the math falls short.

In summary, our ivory tower is crumbling.  Putting the Employment data in downloadable format on its website is going to cause law schools to do something completely new and scary to us -- we are going to have to compete to keep our jobs and stay in business.  The litmus test is going to be the ability of our graduates to obtain remunerative professional work in a highly competitive global economy.   This is very serious work.

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Comments

Finally.

The truth starts to come out - in a torrent.

But why did it take 15 internet era years to get here?

My sense is that law school has been a worsening scam for at least two decades.

Posted by: cas127 | Jun 26, 2012 7:17:58 PM

On a related note, what we could *really* use now is a "Truth and Reconciliation Commission" (non-ABA-led) that will disclose the frauds of the past, in exchange for immunity from future prosecution.

Posted by: cas127 | Jun 26, 2012 7:19:46 PM