Paul L. Caron

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Amidst Controversy Over Proposed Changes In Reporting Of Law School-Funded Jobs, ABA Defers Decision Until Late Fall

ABA Section On Legal Education (2016)Following up on my previous posts (links below): Bloomberg, Law Deans Argue Over How to Count Jobs They Fund:

When times got rough a few years ago and student numbers started to slip, deep-pocketed law schools took solace in being able to give some refuge to unemployed graduates. They used their own funds to pay the salaries of students — often times creating temporary positions in law libraries or even dean’s offices — and were able to count them as employed.

Eventually critics of legal education outcomes caught wind of it and the American Bar Association altered its reporting standards to make school-funded jobs more obvious. But several years later, the group, which accredits law firms, is still tussling over those rules.

In June, the requirements were thrown into question again with an unexpected adoption of changes in the way such information is disclosed.

Paul Mahoney, a former dean of University of Virginia Law School, which has subsidized such positions, proposed the change, which made it harder to discern such positions from other jobs that are full-time, long-term bar passage required jobs — the gold standard that all law schools seek for their graduates.

At the time and in continuing days, advocates of more disclosures have argued that law school applicants will be hampered in evaluating their career prospects without knowing the realistic chances of obtaining a legal position after earning their JD degree.

The ensuing controversy, dissected at the ABA Section on Legal Education, during the annual meeting in New York City on Friday, exposed some lingering splits in the legal education community. ...

For now, the issue is on hold, and the disclosure of the proportion of jobs that law schools subsidize as opposed to those on the open market remains the same. The legal education council will take up the issue again in November. 

ABA Journal, After Transparency Criticism, ABA Law School Employment Questionnaire Revisions Postponed:

Criticism over plans to change questionnaire rules for law school-funded employment—which some legal education critics say would negate all recent action for transparency—has led to the council of the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar on Friday referring the matter to the Standards Review Committee for its October meeting. ..

As of Friday, 24 comments about the revision were posted to the section’s website. Concerns included transparency for law school graduates’ employment numbers and the council not seeking input from others before approving the proposed revision. ...

Comments opposed to the revision also came from the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, a Denver-based think tank, and Scott Norberg, a law professor at Florida International University who is a member of the section’s Standards Review Committee.

“The council’s decision is likely to have significant consequences for law school career services professionals, and for the law school rankings, but was made without any of the transparency or procedures that have accompanied such decisions in the past,” wrote Norberg, a former deputy managing director with the section. “A major beneficiary will be the school of the party that made the proposal. For all these reasons, I urge that the matter be sent to the Standards Review Committee for some further work.”

Mahoney was dean of the University of Virginia School of Law from 2008 to 2016. He told Law.comthat his motive for the memo was to simplify the employment questionnaire, not give his school an advantage for its employment data. ...

Among those supporting the employment questionnaire revision were the law school deans at Notre Dame, Yale and four University of California schools. The California deans’ letter (PDF) notes that the UC System invests $4.5 million annually in summer and post-graduate public service positions.

“Law schools that provide such fellowships … are making a substantial investment in public service and should not be penalized for doing so,” the letter stated. “The failure to treat positions the same regardless of funding gives prospective law students and the public a misleading picture of actual employment numbers.”

At the five law schools in the University of California system, there was a total of 1,202 graduates in 2016, according to the employment questionnaires from BerkeleyDavisIrvineLos Angeles and Hastings. Of those grads, just over 70 percent (842) had full-time, long-term jobs requiring a law degree, while 6.7 percent (82) had school-funded jobs.

Derek Muller (Pepperdine), How Should We Think About Law School-Funded Jobs?:

[A]re law school-funded positions good outcomes, or not? It seems impossible to tell from the evidence, because we have essentially no data about what happens to students from these positions after the funding ceases. ...

But we do have one piece of data from Tom Miles (Chicago), who wrote in his letter to the ABA: "97% of new graduates who have received one of our school-funded Postgraduate Public Interest Law Fellowships remained in public interest or government immediately after their fellowships; 45% of them with the organization who hosted their fellowship." ... Finally, my colleague Rob Anderson did a principal components analysis of job placement and found that law school-funded positions were a relatively good, if minor, job outcome among institutions. [See also Law School Rankings By Job Placement.]

It may be that the worst excesses of the recession-era practices of law schools are behind us, and that these school-funded positions are providing the kinds of opportunities that are laudable. More investigation from the ABA would be most beneficial. But it's also likely the case that the change may be quite modest in the event the ABA chooses to adopt the changes this year.

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Schools' discontent with how U.S. News weights various job categories is entirely separate from the question of complete disclosure of basic details of "jobs" to consumers via ABA reporting, and it's shameful that the ABA is allowing obfuscation of reporting to address the ranking concern. There needs to be an independent watchdog appointed to oversee the ABA now that its clear that deals are done in the dark of night.

Posted by: Anon | Aug 13, 2017 11:50:07 AM