Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Amid Criticism, ABA Pulls Back On Change To How Law Schools Report Jobs

Following up on last week's post, Without Any Transparency In The Process, ABA Legal Ed Council Approves Changes To Employment Report And Classification Of Law-School-Funded Positions That Erode Transparency:  National Law Journal, Amid Criticism, ABA Pulls Back on Change to How Law Schools Report Jobs:

The American Bar Association has pumped the brakes on newly adopted changes to how law schools report graduate employment, after critics complained that they obscure the number of recent graduates in jobs paid for by the schools themselves.

The ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar approved the changes at its last meeting in June, but is scheduled to revisit them when it meets Friday in New York in light of the negative response they’ve generated from legal transparency advocates and legal educators, who said they were instituted without the chance for public input.

“I am usually loath to urge reconsideration of settled matters,” wrote council chairman Greg Murphy in an Aug. 3 memo to fellow council members that recommends sending the already adopted changes to the ABA’s Standards Review Committee for further discussion. “However, where there is reason to believe that a deviation from accepted practice has generated some unanticipated consequences, I think it [is] appropriate to pause and reconsider, even if in the end the decision may well be the same.”

Transparency advocates have been blunt in their criticism of the changes the council adopted in June. Jerome Organ, a professor at the University of St. Thomas, Minnesota School of Law who tracks and analyses employment data, wrote in a post on TaxProf Blog that the changes “completely eviscerate” the steps the council took just two years ago to increase the transparency around school-funded jobs. ...

Barry Currier, the ABA’s managing director of accreditation and legal education acknowledged the pushback in an interview Friday, but said others have reached out in support of the changes, which are intended to simplify the graduate employment reporting requirements for schools. “There will be more discussion about whether the council is still happy with the decision it made in June to change the reporting form,” he said. “There has been a lot of activity around this.”

Paul Mahoney, former dean of the University of Virginia School of Law and member of the ABA council, proposed changes to the reporting of graduate jobs in a May 30 memo that called the existing system “excessively complex and confusing” because it requires schools to report jobs in a myriad different categories. The ABA could simplify the number of job categories without losing much useful information, Mahoney argued.

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Since the Council is fiddling around with employment reporting, they should further err on the side of transparency and consider correcting the definition of "long term" employment while they are at it. Currently, the ABA defines "long term" as "expected to last one year or more."

Oddly, under this definition, there is no way for consumers to use the school's reports to ascertain the amount of real "permanent" jobs i.e., jobs that are intended to be permanent (indefinite), for commensurate compensation, and subject to a bona fide competitive hiring process. This is basic and crucial information is needed to properly evaluate true outcomes, which the current definition inexplicably fails to provide. Also, the current definition is susceptible to abuse.

For instance, a lot of "incubator" programs have popped up and replaced the old law school funded positions. Here's how they work: law schools lobby local typically smaller law firms to temporarily "employ" their graduates for a strategically fixed term of exactly one year or slightly more, at a nominal or well below market stipend paid by the firm (typically around $40K with no health or other benefits), and with absolutely no obligation of continued employment at the automatic expiration of the fixed term. Win win for the school (report them as employed in a full-time, long term, bar required law firm job), and the firm (cheap expendable labor with no strings attached), and even for the student who, by virtue of having had to entertain such a lopsided arrangement, likely had no other employment options anyway.

Currently, these jobs are presented (and counted for rankings purposes) in the schools' employment reports identically to real permanent associate law firm jobs, which is good for the school. But, there is no way for consumers to discern which is which since the jobs aren't reported as law school funded, despite the obvious and compelling reasons for wanting to know what mix a schools' full-time, long term, bar required law firm job figures are comprised of.

There is absolutely is nothing inherently wrong with these admirable incubator programs per se, particularly in a down legal market, however, they should be fully and adequately disclosed for what they are to consumers. If a law school reports that 70% of it's graduates went into full time, long term law firm jobs, but 25% of those are really temporary "incubator" jobs not true permanent employment, I'd want to know that as I choose between schools, wouldn't you?

(I note that clerkships are often used as justification for the definition of "long term," but they are already separately identified and understood to last about 1yr typically, so the definition of "long term" need not be bent to accommodate them)

Posted by: Anon | Aug 9, 2017 5:04:43 PM

It could not be clearer that the ABA's oversight role needs to be stripped and an independent auditor must be appointed to oversee and manage all things law school reporting. Get the foxes out of the hen house.

Posted by: Anon | Aug 9, 2017 10:03:42 AM