ABA Legal Ed Section’s Council Advances Law School Disclosure Requirements
Posted Mar 20, 2012 4:53 PM CDT
By Mark Hansen
The governing council of the ABA's law school accrediting arm has given preliminary approval to a new accreditation standard that would greatly expand the amount of consumer information law schools must publicly disclose to prospective students.
The proposed new standard was approved Saturday for notice and comment by the Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. It will now be sent back to the section's Standards Review Committee, which proposed it, for a public hearing. Then it will come back to the council for final approval, possibly at its June 8-9 meeting in Boston. The new standard will not take effect until it is approved by the ABA House of Delegates, which will next meet at the ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago in August.
New England Law | Boston dean John O'Brien, who chairs the section, said in a statement (PDF) Tuesday that the changes are designed to ensure that all law schools are reporting data in a uniform way that allows current and prospective law students an easy means of comparing law schools.
"Accurate, detailed and transparent data is important consumer information, and the council is committed to ensuring that law schools collect and publish it," he said.
If adopted, the new standard would require law schools to post far more detailed consumer information on their websites than they are now required to, including admissions data, bar passage rates, tuition and fees, curricular offerings and job placement data by employment status and job type.
Law schools also would be required to post conditional scholarship retention data, including the number of students admitted under such scholarships over a three-year period and the number of students whose scholarships were subsequently reduced or eliminated.
The council, which met over the weekend in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., also gave preliminary approval to a proposed new rule that would toughen the sanctions that could be imposed on schools that violate the standards, including a provision that would allow a school to be sanctioned for a violations of standards even after the violations have been corrected.
In fact, with one big exception, the council approved virtually everything the section's Standards Review Committee had recommended. The exception was the committee's recommendation that law schools be required to post school-specific salary information about graduates, which the council, after a lengthy debate, deleted from the proposal. Schools would still be free to report salary data under the current proposal, but would have to specify the number of respondents and the percentage of graduates the data represents.
The issue of whether to include such a requirement in the standards has been a controversial one, even among members of the Standards Review Committee, which ultimately voted to include it in its recommendations to the council under the theory that even admittedly incomplete salary data is better than none at all.
But a majority of the council felt the posting of such information could be misleading because fewer than half of all graduates choose to disclose their salaries, and those who do tend to be the ones earning the most.
Those same concerns prompted the section's Questionnaire Committee to recommend that schools not be required to report salary data on their annual questionnaires, a decision endorsed by the council when it approved the committee's recommended changes in the questionnaires in December. The section has chosen instead to purchase salary information from the National Association for Law Placement, which it plans to publish only on a statewide basis.
Kyle McEntee, executive director of Law School Transparency, a nonprofit organization working to improve consumer information about the value of a legal education, called the decision not to require schools to post school-specific salary data a "big mistake" on the council's part.
Without such a requirement, he said, prospective students will have to depend on U.S. News & World Report's annual law school rankings, which they have to pay for, for salary data, and on whatever salary information a school chooses to provide on its own.
"To me, that's like leaving critical information out of a stock prospectus," he said.