At one end is the postcard boasting that 79 percent of USC Gould School of Law's graduates have jobs in private practice and are earning a median salary of $160,000. At the other end is the want ad for a small, Chicago general practice firm offering to pay a new associate minimum wage.
In between the glittering promise and the gloomy reality, lies the fury of law students and graduates at what they see as half-truths that lured them to take on the crushing debt of a legal education in the expectation of certain success.
"A lot of us feel we've been sold a bill of goods," said Kimber A. Russell, a 2008 graduate from DePaul University College of Law. Russell is the author of "Shilling Me Softly," one of dozens of blogs by law graduates that claim their schools, and the profession generally, tricked them with false promises of great careers with high pay.
By fall, applicants to some prominent law schools will be able to learn more about graduates' job prospects and, within a year or so after that, all accredited law schools are expected to post detailed information about the jobs held and salaries earned by recent graduates on their websites.
"I think most schools are looking for ways to provide more information," said Donald J. Polden, the dean of Santa Clara Law and the chair of a committee rewriting the ABA standards for law school accreditation "I'm very confident that there will be a rethinking of the information the ABA asks for from schools."
Meanwhile, change already has started elsewhere. The law school rankings powerhouse, U.S. News & World Report, announced earlier this month it will list much greater detail about law graduates' employment when it upgrades its rankings next year. ...
Many law school deans blame the U.S. News rankings for pushing schools into using what they described as "creative accounting."
William D. Henderson, an expert on the changing legal profession at Indiana University Maurer School of Law, noted as an example that the percentage of schools claiming 95% of new graduates had jobs rose from 26% of schools in 1997, when the nine-month employment data was added to the U.S. News rankings, all the way to 92% this year.
"If you don't do [creative accounting], you're a chump," Henderson said. ...
Another weakness in the data, said University of San Diego Law School Dean Kevin Cole, is that new graduates' first jobs may have little to do with their final careers. But, Cole said, "if you think it's hard to [reach alumni] at nine months...try five years out." Even so, Cole said that the ABA should focus on collecting salary data rather than details about job categories.