August 16, 2011
Grassley to ABA: I'm Not Going Away That Easily
Senator Charles Grassley is back, asking the ABA follow-up questions based on its response to his previous inquiry. See my posts, Senator Asks ABA Questions About Scholarships and Debt, and ABA Responds To Senator Grassley for details of the earlier events. The current letter is polite enough, though his August 9, 2011 press release is called Grassley Pursues Answers After American Bar Association's "Inadequate" Response. The questions this time are lengthy and contain multiple sub-questions that demand specific answers about ABA policies and attitudes about regulating law schools.
Here is question 1 as an example:
1. The ABA’s report states:
Students are now competing for half as many jobs at top law firms…. Recruitment at many levels of the job market is declining by similar amounts. Although numbers are not available yet, many members of the class of 2010 and 2011 may graduate without a job, and those who are lucky enough to find employment likely will collectively have lower salaries than their predecessors. In short, the job market is more challenging than it has been in many years, as well-paying jobs are in short supply.
a. Given these sobering statistics, are you concerned that graduates will have difficulty paying off their student loans?
b. If so, what proactive steps is the ABA taking to address this problem in order to reduce the taxpayer dollars at risk?
I’m sure the ABA will find a way to express concern about high debt while stating it can’t regulate a law student’s financial decisions. Or something similar. Should that be the case, additional questions get to the same point:
7. This section also states, “The purpose of accredited law schools is to graduate attorneys who can serve the justice system and the long term need for lawyers over a lifetime. …[A]djustments in the number of students enrolling in law school to begin their careers cannot and should not be affected by short-range economic developments.” Given the current lack of employment opportunities for attorneys, what economic research has the ABA conducted which shows that there will be a dramatic increase in attorney employment opportunities in the long term?
a. What innovations and changes does the ABA expect to drive this increase?
b. There are many divergent views among economists regarding the current state of our economy and the prospects for an economic recovery. How has the ABA determined that our current economic state falls into the category of “short-range economic developments”?
c. Has the ABA taken steps to prepare for a situation in which our current “economic developments” persist into the long term?
1. If so, what are those steps?
2. If not, why has the ABA decided that this is an unlikely possibility?
I’m not sure how the ABA would respond to this. The organization really does prefer the status quo when it comes to regulating law schools. It has worked, from its perspective, for many years. The ABA’s previous response to Senator Grassley shows that the organization is aware of the current and prospective job outlook for law graduates, though it seems to not want to connect that situation to overseeing law schools. It’s much more comfortable to focus on square footage, number of seats, student faculty ratio, and other finite categories. I suspect that the ABA does not want to get underneath the employment statistics reported by each school.
A case in point is the organization’s reaction to the discovery that Villanova reported fraudulent admission statistics. The school could have lost its accreditation, though it didn’t. It got censured, whatever that means, based on the fact that the school corrected the mistake as soon as it became aware of the problem. The censure notice will appear on the Villanova Law School web site and copies distributed to law school deans. I’m not being critical of Villanova by any means. The school did the right thing by investigating and taking action. I wonder, though, how realistic was the option of a second tier law school losing accreditation?
By the way, here are the last two paragraphs of the Philadelphia Inquirer story on the Villanova situation:
Villanova's disclosure of falsified admissions data triggered fresh scrutiny of law school statistics. Much of the focus has been on the reported success rate of graduates in finding jobs.
Two ABA committees are examining the employment issue and the reliability of the data. Those examinations are not likely to be as intensive as the review of Villanova and its admissions data.
We want accuracy. We’ll leave the deeper meaning to someone else. Maybe the Inquirer got it wrong, but that conclusion had to come from somewhere.
Senator Grassley may want to open a parallel line of inquiry by contacting individual law schools for their opinions on the current economics for law graduates. How would they like it if an accrediting agency took the law student/graduate economics into account as part of their continued approval to operate? They have a stake in how the ABA regulates them, though I’m willing to bet that most of them are fine with the current level of oversight. A deeper review might make some schools uncomfortable.
Keep it up, Senator. I’m curious how the ABA will respond to your direct inquiry. The latest letter with all 10 questions is here. [MG]
Editor's Note: Text of ABA Letter to Villanova (includes text of Censure Notice). See also ABAJ's article, ABA Raps Villanova re Inaccurate Admission Data, Says Law School Must Post Censure Online. [JH]