Paul L. Caron

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Case For An ABA Accreditation Standard On Employment Outcomes

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.

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The comment made by "Only," in addition sporting a deliberately provocative and mildly offensive nym, suffers from two fatal flaws. One, it can't even get its internal logic correct, saying at first that some could live off "his or her trust fund" but later reverting to "exclusively... white men." It also presumes that in 2017 only white law school applicants can possibly have money to their or their family's name. Classy.

Second, under the "bizarre definition of unemployment adopted by the ABA," someone living off their trust fund would be counted as unemployed and not seeking work. That's kinda why the category exists. That is, of course, unless the individual claims that passively reviewing the trust statements counts as work, which the law school will no doubt chalk up as "JD Advantage."

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Jul 14, 2017 2:56:07 PM

This is not a well thought out idea.

If someone goes to law school, gets married, has kids, and stays home to take care of them, she (or he) counts as unemployed under the bizarre definition of unemployment adopted by the ABA---and no one else.

If someone is born into a rich family, goes to law school for kicks, and then lolls around for the next 30 years living off his or her trust fund, that person counts as "unemployed."

Pretty much any law school in the country could increase its employment rate by exclusively admitting white men and doing nothing else different.

Posted by: Only white men should go to law school? | Jul 14, 2017 6:44:22 AM

Once again, "JD Advantage" jobs should not be considered a positive employment outcome except at a handful of elite schools. Indeed, at lower ranked schools they are an indication of a severe placement problem.

Posted by: Rob Anderson | Jul 13, 2017 10:27:11 PM

"Caveat: the employment percentage can be improved just by decreasing the denominator."
I think that decreasing the denominator (number of graduates) is the ideal way to increase the percentage of graduates who find jobs.

Posted by: Old Ruster | Jul 13, 2017 1:21:53 PM

Caveat: the employment percentage can be improved just by decreasing the denominator. To wit, my dear alma mater languished in the 40 to 50% FT/LT/license-required range for years and years, sometimes in the very low part of that range, but has since increased into the mid to high 50's. Sounds great, right? Here are the number of graduates per year who found such jobs:

2011: 90
2012: 93
2013: 100
2014: 115
2015: 106
2016: 99

So in 2016, half a dozen more grads found jobs than in 2012. But in 2012, the percentage who found work was 43% while in 2016 it was 57%. How? Class size decreased 19%, from 215 to 173.

Of course, the tradeoff is decreased revenue (heavily exacerbated in this case by a roughly 3x increase in the median tuition discount from the school's long-established norm), but some schools will take those odds.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Jul 13, 2017 7:17:07 AM