Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

NLJ : Database Computes the Real Costs, Opportunities of Law School

National Law Journal, Database Computes the Real Costs, Opportunities of Law School:

Law School Transparency has unveiled a comprehensive database detailing a broad range of information designed to guide prospective law students about what they might be getting into — including school-by-school statistics about post-graduation employment and salaries; tuition rates; and student debt loads.

The database relies on information the law schools have reported to the ABA, U.S. News & World Report, the National Association for Law Placement and on their own Web sites about their classes of 2010, the most recent year for which information is available. "The goal is to have the most comprehensive picture of employment outcomes ever produced, and I think we have achieved that," said Law School Transparency Executive Director Kyle McEntee.

For each ABA-accredited law school, the database includes key employment statistics; charts that break down the percentage of graduates in lawyer and non-lawyer jobs; graphs that detail whether jobs were long-term or short-term; maps showing the states in which the largest percentage of graduates found jobs; salary breakdowns; and the jobs reports that schools submitted to the ABA and NALP.

Law School Transparency has calculated an "employment score" for each school, accounting for all graduates in jobs that require a J.D. but subtracting those in solo practices and those in short-term jobs. The database is designed to answer what prospective law students want to know, McEntee said. "It really comes down to the question, 'Am I going to be a practicing lawyer?' Our employment score really gets to that."  ...

Law School Transparency has calculated what it calls the "under-employment score" for each school — the percentage of graduates who are unemployed; are in jobs that don't require or prefer a law degree; are in part-time jobs; or are enrolled in a degree program.

The database's "key stats" tab includes the percentages of students from a given school whose employment status is unknown; who reported salary data to their school; in jobs funded by the school itself; in jobs at law firms with 100 or more attorneys; and in public service jobs.

Law School Transparency's calculations generally offer a different view of a law school's employment statistics that those reported to the ABA or NALP. For example, Law School Transparency's "employment score" for American University Washington College of Law is 54.3% — meaning that slightly more than half the class of 2010 found long-term legal jobs, excluding solo practitioners. By contrast, the ABA report for the class of 2010 shows an employment rate of 83%, which includes graduates in short-term jobs and in jobs that don't require law degrees.

While the database includes the ABA's jobs summary for each school, it includes NALP reports only for the schools that have opted to make those reports available to Law School Transparency or that have posted them on their own Web sites. Some schools have provided redacted NALP reports. Law School Transparency hopes that its database will prompt schools that have not yet turned over their 2010 NALP reports to do so, McEntee said.

Finally, the database covers tuition including a total debt projection for the classes of 2015 and 2016. The debt projections include interest, inflation and additional factors that many prospective students don't consider when taking out loans, McEntee said. He himself didn't fully understand the implications of the loans he took out to attend Vanderbilt University School of Law, he said. For the class of 2015, the projected cost of attending Vanderbilt is $228,241, assuming the student has received no discounts, such as scholarships.

"The idea is not to scare people away from law school — though I think this information will have that effect on many people," McEntee said. "The point is to make people think about the real cost of going to law school."

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