Friday, February 13, 2015
As one of Belmont University’s pre-law advisors, I have been getting an increasing number of e-mails from law school representatives across the country who are trying to recruit our students. One thing that I have been pushing for is better employment data. For the most part, the law school representatives simply send me the ABA required data, which I can already find on my own.
The ABA required data is somewhat helpful to me as an advisor, but the data is insufficient. We really need better salary data and complete (or near complete) employer/job title lists. Longitudinal studies, though difficult to do well, might be interesting.
The ABA required data tells us how many of a law school's graduates for a given year are employed in law firm jobs, judicial clerkships, government, public interest work, etc. The ABA data does not distinguish between an associate attorney position (~$160,000 + prestige + career mobility) and a staff attorney position (~$50,000 + no prestige + dead end, in most cases) at the same large firm - assuming both are full-time, long-term positions, which they can be. While I readily admit that salary is often not the most important part of a job, when prospective law students are considering taking out $100,000+ in loans, they do need to think about how they are going to pay it all back.
On the job title side, a management track job in a bank is a good bit different than working as a teller at that same bank. On the employer side, some small law firms are prestigious boutiques and others are akin to hanging your own shingle; if you had the employer names, you could look them up and uncover the type of work they do and their reputation.
I applaud The University of Michigan Law School for their employer list. According to the list, none of their graduates, over three years, opted out of the list. Only 7 out of over 1000 employment outcomes were unknown. Other schools have provided me with employer lists, but those lists are usually very incomplete, cherry-picked lists. I am not sure how Michigan pulled together this complete of a data set, but other law schools should ask and attempt to replicate.
Add more complete salary data--could we get 75+% reporting?--to an employer list like Michigan’s and prospective students would have a much better look at their likely employment outcomes. (Michigan actually does have over 75% reporting salaries, but many schools are well under 50% reporting). Law School Transparency has been pushing for and organizing some of this data, but we can all join in the attempt to obtain even better employment data so that prospective law students can make more informed decisions.