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, 67 J. Legal Educ. 1035 (2018):
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.
Update #1: Michael Simkovic (USC), Should Law Schools be Penalized for Admitting Students From Wealthy Families Who Are Not Motivated to Work?:
Scott F. Norberg argues for a law school accreditation standard tied to student employment outcomes. The proposal is interesting, and may have some advantages over a standard tied to bar passage rates, for example because it does not give state bars--who can make the bar exam more or less challenging and have incentives to strengthen barriers to entry--excessive control over access to legal education. However, there are several potential concerns.
Employment is systematically higher among certain demographic groups across education levels for reasons that have little to do with value added by law school. An employment-outcomes based standard could encourage law schools to focus on admitting groups with higher expected employment.
Update #2: Law.com, Law Grads' Job Prospects Should Be Accreditation Factor, Prof Says:
Why do you think it hasn’t come up before? It seems like an obvious area for the ABA to monitor, given that it already collects extensive employment data and, as you point out, a number of other accrediting bodies incorporate employment outcomes into their evaluation of programs. It’s something that schools would instinctively resist. Maybe people had not been aware [of] the gap [in legal employment outcomes] that’s there. The research I did brings out some data that may not have been previously noticed. There probably has been a sense that [ABA standards pertaining to] bar pass, attrition, and admissions effectively assure that graduates of schools are finding legal employment in sufficiently large numbers. But when you take a closer look at that data, you see there is a small but not insignificant group of schools with persistently very weak employment outcomes.
Tell me how you reached the 60 percent threshold for legal jobs. Why is that the magic number? I offer the draft standard as a starting point for discussion. I think if the [ABA Council] and legal education more broadly takes up the proposal and debates it, that’s something that might be revised. Part of it has to do with looking across law schools today and seeing what the maximum employment rates are at the programs with the best outcomes, and looking back from that to account for the fact that historically only about 80 percent of students pass the bar on the first time. So there’s some allowance for that, and for other sorts of conditions that lead some students not to get legal employment within 10 months after graduation. That’s how I get to the minimum number. But it deserves a good bit of discussion before adopting a standard, if we get to that point.