Sunday, June 30, 2013
As noted in Part I of this post, the competitive dynamics among law schools are about to change due to a combination of two factors: (1) the ABA's collection and publication more granular data on school-level employment outcomes, and (2) the decision by U.S. News to make JD Bar Passage Required and JD Advantaged the primary measures for the employed-at-9-months input to its rankngs formula.
The histogram below reveals a near perfect bell curve for this revamped US News
input [click on to enlarge]. This is a huge change from prior years
when schools were all bunched at the 95% level because employment of any
kind was all that mattered. Under the old methodology, any law school that
limited itself to full-time, professional law-related jobs would have
plummeted in the rankings 10 to 50 spots.
Because spring 2013 was the first year with the new methodology, the impact of the change is not well understood. The most stark fact of the new environment is that the full-time, professional law-related jobs are in short supply. Among the class of 2011 (the stats used for the 2013 rankings), this desirable outcome was achieved by only 63.0% of graduates. When we subtract out full-time, long-term law-related professional jobs funded by law schools -- a luxury that only a small number of mostly first-tier law schools can afford -- the total drops to 61.9%.
Digging deeper, some other significant patterns emerge.
The vast majority of law schools feed into the regional labor markets where they are located. In places like California, those markets are saturated.
Among the ABA-accredited law schools in California, 46.5% of the class of 2011 obtained full-time JD Bar Passage Required jobs. The comparable figure for the remaining ABA-accredited law schools was 56.0%. Likewise, there is also a disparity for JD Advantage jobs: 6.2% in California versus 8.3% for schools in all other states. In fact, among the 19 ranked California law schools, only four -- Stanford, UC Berkeley, USC, UCLA -- are above the 63.0% average for full-time, professional law-related jobs.
Based on these data, it should come as no suprise that no law school located in California went up in the 2013 U.S. News rankings. Stanford, USC, and Santa Clara hung onto their ranking, but 11 California law schools dropped, with an average decline of 11 spots. Five other Calfornia schools remained in the unranked fourth-tier category.
In contrast, some of the biggest winners in the methodology change were flagship public law schools that are relatively big fish in smaller regional markets. Students at these schools tend to stay in-state and get JD Bar Passage Required jobs at rates far higher than the 54.9% average for the class of 2011 average.
Below are the top 15 non-national public law schools based on the proportion of FT Bar Passage Required jobs.
Between 2012 and 2013, the average rankings gain for the above schools was +9 spots. Among this group, the only school to go down in the rankings was ASU Law (-3). And that decline was largely due to the fact that ASU reported a 98% employed-at-nine-months figure for the class of 2010--a figure that drew suggestions of aggressive gaming. See Brian Tamanaha, When True Numbers Mislead, Balkanization, April 2, 2012.
The heavier weighting for JD Bar Passage Required jobs also benefits a handful of lower-ranked private law schools that are practice-oriented and tend to feed smaller firms within their regional areas.
- Campbell (71.4% FT bar passage jobs) went from unranked to #126.
- South Texas (64.4% FT bar passage jobs) went from unranked to #144
- St. Mary's (78.3% FT bar passage jobs) went from unranked to #140.
Part-Time Law Schools Dominate JD Advantaged Jobs
JD Advantaged Jobs count the same as JD Bar Passage Required Jobs. But what, exactly, is included in this category? According to the ABA,
A position in this category is one for which the employer sought an individual with a J.D., and perhaps even required a J.D., or for which the J.D. provided a demonstrable advantage in obtaining or performing the job, but which does not itself require bar passage or an active law license or involve practicing law.
See ABA Class of 2012 (definitions). Many professionals enroll in law school on a part-time basis to improve their career prospects. It should be no surprise, then, that schools with part-time programs tend to be the largest producers of graduates with full-time JD Advantage jobs. In many cases, it is the full-time job that the student held during law school -- and presumably retains upon graduation -- that confers the advantage.
Of the top 10 schools based on the percentage of JD Advantage law school jobs, eight had part-time programs and the other two were located in a state capital, which tends to increase the number of opportunities related to government and public policy.
The schools listed above gained an average of 3.5 spots in the rankings, albeit the average is pulled down by the inclusion of Southwestern, which had to weather the brutal California legal market.
It is worth noting that the percentage of JD Advantage jobs is negatively correlated with the percentage of JD Bar Passage Required Jobs (-.33) .The table below summarizes the differences between schools with Part-time versus Full-Time only programs.
The higher percentage of JD Advantage jobs (10.1% versus 6.9%) for schools with part-time programs is unlikely the results of chance, as the differences in means are statistically signficant at p < .001. But what does this inverse relationship mean?
programs tend to be affiliated with lower ranked law schools, which in turn would produce a lower average percentage of JD Bar
Passage Required jobs. Yet, part-time programs are also in larger,
urban locations. Thus, in addition to the continued employment of
part-time students with their current employers, the sheer proximity to
large, specialized regional economies probably increases the proportion
of JD Advantage jobs. Indeed, any school in an large metro area would
be foolish to ignore the human capital needs of non-legal employers, as
knowledge of the law is very helpful in navigating through an ever more
complex, regulated, and interconnected world.
What is the Best Strategy for Maximizing Full-Time, Professional Law-Related Jobs?
Largely through happenstance, the ABA and U.S. News have created an environment where law schools have to ask this basic but very important question. Part-time jobs will no longer cut it. And few law schools have the cash to hire their own grads full-time for a year past graduation -- and if they do, there are probably better uses for the millions of dollars needed annually to prop up a school's ranking.
The new gold standard employment outcome is full-time, long-term professional law-related jobs. The issue of how to maximize this outcome is so pressing and intricate that it may warrant trade-offs in the admissions process, favoring students will lower credentials but more rock-solid employment prospects on the backend at graduation. This is the topic I will take up in Part III.
[posted by Bill Henderson]