January 18, 2013
On Playing Games with Law School Data: The buck stops where and by what means of accountability?
In Law Deans in Jail [SSRN], Morgan Cloud and George B. Shepherd (both Emory Law) suggested that law schools, their deans, U.S. News & World Report and its employees may have committed felonies by publishing false information as part of U.S. News' ranking of law schools. From the abstract:
Some law schools and their deans submitted false information about the schools' expenditures and their students' undergraduate grades and LSAT scores. Others submitted information that may have been literally true but was misleading. Examples include misleading statistics about recent graduates' employment rates and students' undergraduate grades and LSAT scores.
U.S. News itself may have committed mail and wire fraud. It has republished, and sold for profit, data submitted by law schools without verifying the data's accuracy, despite being aware that at least some schools were submitting false and misleading data. U.S. News refused to correct incorrect data and rankings errors and continued to sell that information even after individual schools confessed that they had submitted false information. In addition, U.S. News marketed its surveys and rankings as valid although they were riddled with fundamental methodological errors.
That seems a little far-fetched but what about law school administrators' professional obligations? Ben Trachtenberg (Missouri Law) makes the case that law school administrators who are licensed to practice law may be subject to discipline under Rule 8.4(c) of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Here's the abstract for Trachtenberg's Law School Marketing and Legal Ethics [SSRN]:
Law schools have misled prospective students for years about the value of legal education. In some cases, law school officials have engaged in outright deceit, knowingly spreading false information about their schools. More commonly, they have presented statistics—especially those concerning the employment outcomes of law graduates—in ways nearly guaranteed to confuse readers. These deceptions and sharp practices violate the norms of the legal profession, a profession that scrupulously regulates the advertising of legal services. The deceptions also violate ethical rules prohibiting lawyers from engaging in dishonesty, misrepresentation, and deceit.
This article exposes how pitches aimed at prospective students, including the seemingly straightforward recitation of statistics on law school websites, still paint an unduly rosy picture of the legal employment market. Focusing on Rule 8.4(c) of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, the article explains that law school officials have exposed themselves to professional discipline, which may offer a solution to the pervasive problem of misleading law school marketing.
While under the cloak of academic freedom, individual law profs can crunch data any way they want to (e.g., here and here) no matter how intellectually bankrupt their results may be, clearly that is not the case with law school administrators who have knowingly engaged in deceptive practices. [JH]
Playing games with data? That's something academic law libraries know quite a bit about. They have been playing games with the numbers for YEARS, but no one admits it.
At the great majority of academic law libraries, more than half the volumes on the shelves are so outdated that they're of no use whatsoever to anyone, not even academics or historians. And yet libraries continue to keep and "count" the books when they report the size of their collection to the public, the ABA, and U.S. News.
Posted by: juris_prudence | Jan 18, 2013 4:22:45 PM