October 18, 2011
The ABA Reacts
The American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar issued the most remarkable statement yesterday. It wrote to clarify its role of how it manages the collection and publication of jobs data. As readers well know, hardly anyone is happy with the job market for recent graduates and angrier still because schools put such a happy face on their placement data. I need not go into the lawsuits faced by some schools, the inquiries to the ABA from three Senators, and other events where the ABA seemed to be tentative about regulating in an area they have oversight. Consider that the Section censured Villanova for falsely reporting data and the University of Illinois admitted that it had done the same, without an announced penalty at this point. The implication is that these are anomalies that can be fixed in the normal course of business.
Well, no more. The Section is getting sick and tired and not going to take it anymore:
To become accredited, law schools must comply with each of the Standards for Approval of Law Schools. Standard 509 requires that law schools publish basic consumer information, including placement data. “The information shall be published in a fair and accurate manner reflective of actual practice.” The ABA relies on law schools to provide fair and accurate information, which we publish for use by prospective students. Law schools that violate Standard 509 risk the loss of accreditation or other serious penalty, as was the case with the false reporting of admissions data by Villanova University School of Law earlier this year.
In light of the recent revelations of violations or possible violations of Standard 509 by two law schools, the section chair has directed the Standards Review Committee to draft a new standard that provides for specific and severe penalties for the intentional misreporting of placement data, including possible monetary fines and loss of accreditation. The Standards Review Committee is scheduled to take up the matter immediately.
What is remarkable about this is that the Section is considering sanctions with teeth for a school’s violations of standards and that it is doing so speedily. That’s not the ABA we’ve known in the past. One of Senator Grassley’s criticisms of the ABA is that it seemed the Section was filled with enough academics who would give schools a large benefit of the doubt when it came to playing at the edge of the accreditation standards. Putting it another way, the Section and the schools are perceived to be a bit too cozy when comes to regulating how law schools operate.
It could put the ABA in some jeopardy if the current lawsuits show that multiple schools cheated on their numbers. The organization is not part of the legal actions, so far. I suspect that it may be the next target if the schools are liable. Was the ABA complicit in letting the schools get away with false numbers as the question might be raised? I don’t know but, oh, what details might come out in discovery. Better to step up now and avoid going there.
The Section is following through with collecting additional and more detailed jobs data from the schools:
The section is expanding and refining the quality of placement data reported by law schools. This will be done in two phases:
- Beginning with 2010 graduates, we are asking schools to provide employment status, type, location, whether short or long term, and whether employment is funded by the school itself. The 2010 questionnaire reflects these changes, and the information will be reported on the section website and in the next ABA-LSAC Official Guide to Law Schools.
- Employment data regarding whether the employment requires a J.D. and/or bar passage, relates to other professions, and is full time or part time, will be required going forward. We are refining the questions and the definitions used by NALP so that they are fully clear and accurate. When finalized, they will be part of the 2011 questionnaire going out next spring.
The section is expediting the collection and reporting of placement data. Unlike in years past, employment data for each school will be published one year after graduation, so that students entering in a given fall semester will have placement information for the class that graduated the previous year. The 2011 graduating class data will be reported in the summer of 2012, fully one year earlier than in previous years.
This has been in the works for a while. This statement, however, is the clearest issued so far on what the ABA intends for jobs data in the new surveys. I hope they meet their deadlines and the schools comply with honest numbers. It’s also nice to see the ABA making decisions with some speed. Senators and others, take note. The ABA is looking as if it doesn't want to play law school patsy anymore. [MG]