U.S. Senate staff members are gathering a trove of information about legal education in the U.S., including figures on law school job placement and student-loan debt, in response to questions about whether the nation's law schools have been luring students with bogus data.
The information could serve as a backdrop to hearings on legal education that U.S. senators are "strongly considering," according to a congressional staffer.
So far this year, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.), has sent three letters [March 31, May 20, October 6] to the ABA, a section of which accredits law schools, urging the organization to do more "to increase its efforts to protect current and prospective law school students from misleading information."
Sen. Charles Grassley (R., Iowa), has in recent months sent two letters of his own [July 13 (ABA Response), August 8 (ABA Response)], asking whether law schools are behaving irresponsibly by enticing students to take on federally-backed loans, when it's becoming harder and harder to pay back those loans.
And last month, Sen. Boxer and Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.), in order "to better understand trends related to law schools," requested from the Department of Education "an examination of American law schools that focuses on the confluence of growing enrollments, steadily increasing tuition rates and allegedly sluggish job placement." ...
Congressional hearings, were they to happen, wouldn't necessarily lead to legislation. But they would represent the most aggressive congressional move yet into the controversy over law-school transparency.
According to the congressional staffer, senators would likely probe into schools' alleged failure to report accurate employment statistics and air concerns over the amount of debt being racked up by law school students by the time they graduate, often with no job waiting for them. The Senate Commerce Committee is a leading candidate to hold the hearings. ...
William Henderson, a law professor at Indiana University whose scholarship focuses on the legal industry, said he "wasn't entirely surprised" by the possibility of hearings. "The academy hasn't been completely transparent. The employment figures submitted by schools fail to make key distinctions about the types of employment, and now that's catching up to us."
But others in legal academy feel that the transparency issue is overblown. "The economy is in the tank, things are down," said Larry Kramer, dean of Stanford Law School. "Nobody was thinking about 'transparency' five years ago, because the job market was so rich there was no reason to quibble over statistics."