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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Amar: A Guided Tour Through The Debate Over Changing The ABA Employment Data Form

Vikram Amar (Dean. Illinois), A Guided Tour Through The Debate Over Changing The ABA Employment Data Form:

It is, I think, a sign of the lingeringly tight job and law school applicant markets that over the past few weeks many law deans have been weighing in on a contentious change in the form the American Bar Association (ABA) uses to record and communicate employment outcomes for each law school’s most recently graduated class. As I explain below, the issue involves a complicated mix of arguments about substantive policy, procedural thoroughness, and perceptions by the outside world.

As other commentators, such as Kyle McEntee (for this website) and Jerry Organ (on TaxProf Blog), have documented in great detail, the ABA Council on Legal Education earlier this summer amended the form to be used to depict employment results, beginning with the Class of 2017. 

The amendments are supposed to promote simplification, but in addition to containing technical mistakes the new form collapses certain categories that many observers think deserve separate treatment. For example, the new form lumps together all law firms that employ 100-500 lawyers, even though some folks think that a firm of 101 lawyers is qualitatively different than one that has 350 lawyers. Much more controversially, the new form does not – in a way the old form did – display the number of jobs a school’s graduates hold that are funded by the law school itself and that are open only to graduates of that law school, so long as the job lasts a year and pays $40,000. So-called “school-funded” jobs have been a contentious issue for several years, and it is thus unsurprising that when people found out what the Council had done to alter the reporting of such jobs, many folks sat up and took notice. ...

All of that brings me to a comment voiced by many deans – that it looks terrible to cut back on the finely grained information provided by the form (even if the form needs some clarifying tweaks) at a time when members of public (and regulators in government) remain somewhat skeptical about the way some law schools have conducted themselves in the last two or three years as the job and application markets have shrunk. As just one indicator of the level of public interest, consider that Jerry Organ’s TaxProf Blog piece mentioned above – which is sharply critical of the substance and procedure behind the Council’s revisions of the form – garnered over 6,000 “shares” in just three or four days after it was posted. Given that there are fewer than 500 law deans/career service department heads who work directly on this seemingly technical, inside-baseball, kind of issue (and paying due respect to the TaxProf Blog, which I consult myself not infrequently), that’s a lot of eyeballs. Practicing lawyers, judges, prospective law school applicants, government officials, and others are still watching law schools very carefully, and we should be mindful of that. (I might point out that a similarly interesting blend of substantive, procedural, and optical arguments characterizes the debates raging in California over whether its “cut-score” — the passing threshold for its bar exam — should be lowered.)

To the extent that these matters are heavily influenced by job and admissions markets, let me highlight two positive developments over the summer: (1) Given smaller entering and graduating class sizes in recent years, the Class of 2016 had a higher percentage employed in full-time, long-term, law jobs than did the Class of 2015, and projections for the Class of 2017 are that this metric will improve a bit more; and (2) the number of LSAT takers in June 2017 was up about 20 percent from June 2016, with the registration for the September 2017 test administration also apparently up double digits from last year.

Legal Education | Permalink


"Given smaller entering and graduating class sizes in recent years, the Class of 2016 had a higher percentage employed in full-time, long-term, law jobs than did the Class of 2015"

Class of 2014: 26,248 graduates found long-term, full-time, license-required employment within ten months of graduation

Class of 2015: 23,687 grads found FT/LT/lic-req'd work.

Class of 2016: 22,930 graduates found FT/LT/lic-req'd work.

So when we talk about the actual number of FT/LT lawyering jobs instead of using the shrinking denominator of law school class sizes - a phenomenon caused in no small part to 0Ls have access to years worth of news coverage of law schools' data shenanigans - to pretend that job prospects are better than they are, there in fact was a 3.19% decrease between 2015 and 2016. And a 23.6% decrease in the number of FT/LT lawyering jobs just between 2014 and 2016.

This is why law schools cannot be given an inch of leeway in their employment reports. Heck, lest we forget, the first ten third-party random audits of law schools' ABA employment data happened last year and five of those ten schools failed to meet the accuracy threshold.

And per NALP figures, the real dollar median starting salary for the Class of 2016 is still down 22% from the Class of 2008. Too bad we can't say the same thing about tuition.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Aug 8, 2017 7:33:40 PM

EDIT: That's should read a 12.6% decrease from 2014 to 2016, not a 23.6% decrease. Doesn't make the outcomes acceptable, mind you.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Aug 8, 2017 7:34:46 PM