Thursday, July 13, 2017
Scott F. Norberg (Florida International; Former Deputy Managing Director, ABA Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar (2011-14)), The Case for an ABA Accreditation Standard on Employment Outcomes:
Students graduating from American Bar Association (ABA)-accredited law schools over the past ten years have faced a declining entry-level legal employment market, stagnant or decreased starting salaries, and increased tuition debt burdens. While most law schools report strong legal employment rates, some consistently place fewer than 40 or 50 percent of their graduates in law jobs (roughly defined as those full-time, long-term jobs for which bar passage is required or the J.D. degree is an advantage in obtaining or performing the job) within 9-10 months after graduation. At least partly in response to the declining legal employment market, law school applications and enrollments have decreased sharply in the past six years. However, some law schools with persistently very weak graduate employment outcomes have lowered admissions standards in order to minimize reduction in class sizes. In doing so, they almost inevitably exacerbate existing problems because their bar passage rates suffer and their graduates’ employment prospects are further diminished.
The perfect storm of increased student debt and diminished employment outcomes has drawn a wide range of responses, including two reports from American Bar Association presidential task forces, and extensive analysis and commentary by a range of legal education observers. This paper builds on the preexisting analyses by assembling the data and reviewing the literature, and then advocating the adoption of a new ABA accreditation standard on law graduate employment outcomes. The standard fills the gap in the current standards that allows law schools to pursue admissions policies that minimize enrollment reductions without regard to the impact on employment outcomes. An employment outcomes standard and could be adopted in addition to or in lieu of the bar passage standard.