Saturday, May 21, 2011

Law students lobby Congress for law requiring transparency on law school employment stats

From the National Law Journal:

There appears to be widespread agreement among law students that their schools should be more transparent about how well their recent graduates do in the job market.

They don't seem to agree, however, on how to best press their cause.

A coalition of 55 student bar association presidents wrote on Thursday to a number of U.S. senators proposing legislation requiring the U.S. Department of Education to collect graduate job information statistics directly from law schools.

By contrast, Law School Transparency — a nonprofit group formed last year to advocate for more detailed graduate employment information — is focusing squarely on the American Bar Association. The DOE has delegated oversight of law schools to the ABA, and the proposed legislation would represent a major departure from the existing regulatory system.

The proposed legislation was the brainchild of Nate Burris, president of the Law Students Association at Boston College Law School. Burris said he supports and admires the work of Law School Transparency, but has grown impatient with what he sees as foot-dragging by the ABA.

"The ABA said they've been working on this issue for three years, and will need at least another year before they decide on anything," he said. "I agree that due diligence is incredibly important, but to me, three years and probably one — if not more — years still to go is not the level of attention this issue calls for. More classes of law students are going to school, and I think the time for action is now."

Kyle McEntee, executive director of Law School Transparency and a recent graduate of Vanderbilt University Law School, said he understands the frustration. He argued, however, that the ABA needs time to complete its overhaul of accreditation standards.

On its Web site, Law School Transparency described the move as "jumping the gun."

McEntee declined to comment regarding whether he tried to dissuade Burris from contacting lawmakers.

"I think the people in the ABA know what they need to do," McEntee said. "I don't think [the proposed legislation] will have too much of an effect on them."

Still, the broad support for the proposal among student leaders on so many campuses may well send a message to members of the ABA's Council for the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, which must approve any changes to law school accreditations standards, McEntee said.

"It seems everyone is in agreement, and it's a matter of putting the right pressure on the right people," he said. "It's going to take time, but the ABA is going to be the fastest way to get it done."

The fact that U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) sent a letter to ABA President Stephen Zack in March asking the group to "ensure potential students have a full understanding of the costs and benefits of legal education" indicates that lawmakers are interested in the issue, Burris said.

The letter was sent to U.S. Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), as well as other congressional leaders.

"I don't think there is a right or wrong time for truth," he said. "I think [the proposed legislation] clearly fits in with the mission of the Department of Education."


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