Sunday, March 20, 2011

ABA Standards Review sub-committee recommends law schools post employment data on their websites

A sub-committee of the ABA Standards Review Committee (which sets accreditation standards for law schools) has released a report recommending to the full committee that law schools be required to post employment data on their websites for the purpose of helping prospective law students make a more informed decision about whether to go to law school and, if so, which schools to attend.

The report notes that this recommendation is in response to the criticism leveled at law schools for being less than forthright about employment data:

Over the past few years, there has been a great deal of criticism directed at law schools
for their public presentation of employment information. Much of this criticism is
warranted. Too much information is presented in a potentially misleading fashion. The most significant problems fall into one of two categories:

Employment rates
• Schools appear to disclose employment rates using different methodologies. The
Annual Questionnaire instructs schools to calculate the employment rate as a percentage of those whose employment status is known as of Feb. 15. Therefore,
a graduate whose status is unknown does not harm the school’s employment rate.This can artificially inflate the true employment rate, assuming that mostgraduates who do not respond to the school’s inquiries are not employed. U.S.News uses its own methodology for rankings purposes, which includes asemployed graduates enrolled in full time degree programs and ¼ of graduates whose status is unknown (although this appears to be changing with the new rankings being issued this month). We believe that the percentages disclosed should be based on the entire graduating class, with only those known to be employed being counted as such.

• A school’s overall employment rate may include nonprofessional jobs, part-time jobs, temporary jobs and jobs funded by the school. This can create a misleading impression about the true success of the school’s graduates. We believe that the
best approach is to require schools to disclose more disaggregated data about these categories of jobs.

The sub-committee similarly found that the information released by law schools about the starting salaries of new grads can be misleading when those stats are based on a small sample or are biased in favor of the highest earners.  Accordingly, the sub-committee is recommending a reform with respect to the reporting of this information as well.

Schools receive salary information from a fairly small percentage of graduates. Graduates reporting their salaries are skewed towards those earning the most. Therefore, the median known salary of a school’s graduates is likely to overstate (often significantly) the median of all graduates who are employed. The same is true when schools disclose a median salary of graduates in private practice, because respondents are skewed towards those in large firms. A school that touts median salary information, without appropriate qualifiers, is misleading prospective students. We propose that all salary information clearly indicate the number of respondents and percentage of all graduates included.

In light of this, here's the proposed reporting standard the sub-committee is recommending be implemented:

Standard 509. BASIC CONSUMER INFORMATION
(b) A law school must publicly disclose the employment outcomes of its graduates by
preparing and posting on its website the attached chart.
(1) The employment information must be accurate as of February 15th for persons who graduated with a JD or equivalent degree between September 1 two calendar years prior and August 31 one calendar year prior.
(2) The information must be posted on the school’s website by March 31 each
year.
(3) The information posted must remain on the school’s website for at least three years, so that at any time, at least three graduating classes’ data is posted.
(4) The information must be gathered and disclosed in accordance with the instructions and definitions issued by the Section’s Questionnaire Committee.
(5) Any additional employment information the law school discloses must be fair, accurate and not misleading.
(A) Any publicly disclosed statistics regarding graduates’ salaries must clearly identify the number of salaries and the percentage of graduating students included.

You can click here (and scroll down to page 4) to see a copy of the proposed chart law schools will be required to include on their websites if the committee's recommendation is adopted.

Hat tip to the TaxProf Blog.

(jbl).

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