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Will Senate Hold Hearings on Law Schools? Lawmakers’ Data Collection Could Be Backdrop

Posted Nov 14, 2011 11:07 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Lawmakers who are gathering a “treasure trove” of data about law schools could use the information in congressional hearings, according to a published report.

According to the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.), an unnamed congressional staffer says senators are “strongly considering” hearings. “Congressional hearings, were they to happen, wouldn't necessarily lead to legislation,” the story says. “But they would represent the most aggressive congressional move yet into the controversy over law-school transparency.”

Critics say law schools are misleading prospective students about how hard it is for law grads to find jobs. The ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, which accredits law schools, has also been targeted for publicizing statistics about the percentage of law grads that obtain jobs, without specifying whether the employment is full- or part-time, or even whether it’s practicing law. The section is planning to collect and publish more detailed information in the future.

Sens. Barbara Boxer Boxer, D-Calif., and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, have both written to the ABA to request information and express their concerns that law schools need to be more transparent about employment of graduates. More recently, Boxer and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., asked federal education officials to turn over detailed information about law school tuition, finances, job placement, bar passage and student debt.

Law School Transparency is a nonprofit group that is among the critics. In a statement posted on its website, the group says any hearings that are held should not be confined to questions about published statistics.

“If and when this hearing happens, we expect the discussion of law school transparency to broaden to questions about the law school cost structure,” Law School Transparency says. “It is important to ask why and how the average law graduate’s debt (over $100,000) could reach such an extreme. To this end, structural transparency is crucial to understanding and fixing the broken law school model. … Law schools run on essentially limitless student loans. With this constant stream of financing, law school budgets expand, often in the name of better quality.”

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