Law Scribbler

When the Data Differs, Whose Jobs Stats Should Would-be Law Students Trust?

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Finding trustworthy advice on law school can be no easy task. And it doesn’t seem to be getting any easier.

Pre-law advising for potential law students is too often a job pushed upon reluctant and ill-informed college faculty, says Frank Guliuzza, co-editor of Before the Paper Chase: The Scholarship of Law School Preparation and Admission. Guliuzza, dean of academic affairs at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va., has been a pre-law adviser for 20 years.

“I think there are some extraordinarily good and ensconced pre-law advisers,” Guliuzza says, “but probably 50 to 65 percent of schools have very poor to almost no pre-law advising.”

Add to that assessment the results of a recent Kaplan survey exposing drastically altered views from prospective students to recent graduates on what to consider before choosing a law school.

Asked to name the biggest decision-making influence when picking a law school, nearly a third of respondents in an LSAT prep class cited law school rankings. Further, rankings were “very important” or “somewhat important” to 86 percent in deciding where to apply.

Three years of intensive study and hefty tuition bills later, only 17 percent of respondents prioritized rankings. Nearly half recommended placing the greatest emphasis on job placement rates or tuition affordability.

And that’s a problem when 2011 employment data from the National Association for Law Placement seems to differ drastically from figures released by the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar (which are featured in this month’s ABA Journal Law by the Numb#rs graphic).

According to NALP, 21 percent of 2011 law grads who obtained jobs in private practice were working in firms with more than 250 lawyers. In contrast, ABA figures show only 8.4 percent of the 2011 class got full-time, long-term jobs requiring bar passage at firms of 250 lawyers or more—where, in general, the big salaries are.

The difference is in the method of reporting, and is really a product of the demand for more transparency. NALP’s reported figures include full-time, part-time, permanent and temporary jobs, and those that do not require bar passage, says Judy Collins, NALP’s director of research. That follows the method of previous years in which those separate categories were not pulled out of the hiring statistics. That method also allows comparison with previous years, and NALP acknowledged that comparison was not a happy one. The ABA, responding to demands for more meaningful data, this year broke out the figures for full- and part-time, permanent and temporary, presenting an even more depressing statistic.

Meanwhile, when the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics crunched through data on 800 different jobs to find the country’s highest earners (compiled by CBS MoneyWatch), lawyers made the top 10 list with an average wage of $129,440. But the report doesn’t note that the statistic only includes salaried positions with a W2 form, does not include partners or solo practitioners, and doesn’t account for big employers that skew data.

“The federal government is loaded with lawyers, and D.C. is just as loaded with AM Law 200 firms,” says William D. Henderson, director of the Center on the Global Legal Profession and a professor at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law, citing one example of how a fixed concentration of six-figure associate and income-partner salaries drives over-inflated national averages.

“But that doesn’t mean jobs are plentiful,” Henderson warns. “Those positions are highly specialized and shrinking in numbers. Historically, they’re remunerative jobs, but they’re increasingly hard to get into.”

Seems like the lack of consistent, transparent data for prospective law graduates is increasingly hard to justify.

See also: Median Starting Pay for Associates Is No Longer in the Six Figures; Figure Drops 35% in Two Years Bad News Gets Worse: 2001 Grads Face Tightening Job Market Kyle McEntee Challenges Law Schools to Come Clean

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