Legal Education

ABA Legal Ed Council will talk more about how law school-funded jobs get reported

  • Print.

ABA Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar

Revisions to the ABA law school employment questionnaire—that, if implemented, will allow school-funded jobs meeting certain requirements to not be reported as such—will be discussed further this week, according to a memo from the chair of the council of the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.

The move follows criticism of the change—including a petition to suspend the questionnaire”s implementation—with charges that the revision negates all recent action for greater transparency in employment data for recent law school graduates.

Previously, school-funded jobs, most of which involve public interest or government work, were parsed out in the annual employment summaries. With the revision, jobs funded by law schools that are full-time, long-term, require bar passage and pay more than $40,000 annually “will not be identified as school-funded,” according to a memo (PDF) written by Barry Currier, the ABA’s managing director of accreditation and legal education, and Bill Adams, the deputy managing director of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.

“My sense is that the council was persuaded that the changes were needed, that there was no reason to delay, and that the changes would be greeted with much relief by law schools across the country. The vote was taken on a voice vote. I do not recall hearing any dissent,” Gregory G. Murphy, a Montana lawyer who chairs the council, wrote in his Aug. 3 memo (PDF).

When the council in June approved the revision, it was noted by Currier that generally, that sort of matter would be referred to the Standards Review Committee for comment. The council decided to adopt the employment questionnaire without sending it to the committee first, according to Murphy’s memo.

“I am usually loath to urge reconsideration of settled matters. However, where there is reason to believe that a deviation from accepted practice has generated some unanticipated consequences, I think it appropriate to pause and reconsider, even if in the end the decision might well be the same,” wrote Murphy, adding that he’s recommending the council consider referring the issue to the Standards Review Committee for its view.

The suggestion for change came from Paul Mahoney, a council member who in a May memo (PDF) suggested that there’s a certain degree of complexity with the employment questionnaires that may not be necessary, and some questions do not apply to school’s situations. School-funded jobs, he wrote, only account for 2 percent of the reported employment outcomes in class of 2016 employment data, but 19 percent of the entries are devoted to the positions.

“In short, we applied a curse that is more misleading than the original disease. Recall that we began down this path because a number of commentators were concerned that some law schools were actively deceiving prospective students by hiring unemployed graduates to perform menial tasks and counting them as employed,” Mahoney writes. “But over time our concern has become an obsession.”

Mahoney is a law professor at the University of Virginia, and until recently served as its dean. The school was one of several that could benefit from the change regarding school-funded jobs, according to a Taxprof Blog post written by Jerry Organ, a University of St. Thomas law professor who started the petition to suspend implementation of the revised questionnaire.

On its 2016 employment summary (PDF), the University of Virginia School of Law listed 19 graduates in full-time, long-term jobs its funds.

According to Organ, although it appears that the council will take steps to involve the Standards Review Committee in the employment questionnaire revisions, he still finds Murphy’s position troubling.

“I am not sure how one can have a full and open debate when only one side is involved in presenting its views. Thankfully, he left it open to others on the council to move to reconsider the decision regarding school-funded positions, an invitation I am hoping some council members will accept,” Organ wrote in an email to the ABA Journal.

There is some support for the change. Susan J. Curry, director of public interest law and policy at the University of Chicago Law School, says that for some law school graduates, it’s harder to get a school-funded job in public interest work than being hired by a large law firm.

“These are not just throwaway jobs. These are student-designed, market-based positions,” says Curry, whose law school offers yearlong fellowships paying $50,000 a year. One recent graduate, she adds, did his fellowship with a domestic violence legal aid group.

Jobs for first-year lawyers in legal aid are almost non existent without some sort of fellowship, because of Legal Services Corp funding cuts, says Curry. At her school, the fellowships are funded by alumni donations.

“There seem to be people who think there’s a transparency issue with the new employment standard reporting,” Curry says. “I don’t get that at all. It’s not as though the law students aren’t realizing that the law school funds fellowships. We aren’t hiding that, we’re celebrating it.”

All of the Chicago grads with fellowships go onto full-time jobs, frequently in government or public interest, after the position ends, according to Curry. That may not case for other law school graduates with school-funded jobs, say critics of the employment questionnaire change.

“If you really want to be cynical, ask how many law schools are funding positions for 12 months and a day, to get the benefit,” says Steven Harper, author of The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession in Crisis. Spending slightly more than $40,000 to employ a recent graduate, he adds, could be a good investment.

“Assuming that tuition is $40,000 a year, they’d be rebating one-third of the revenue they get from that student,” says Harper, who also blogs at The Belly of the Beast. “This is going back to the real core of the problem, which is how do we fund higher education, particularly at the law school level? There’s no accountability for law school outcomes. Money is freely lent to anyone who wants to sign their name [to a loan agreement], and the law schools have no incentive to do anything other than keep the pipeline going.”

There are some good points in the revised employment questionnaire, writes the Law School Transparency’s Kyle McEntee at Above the Law, but other points he finds extremely troubling. In 2010, McEntee and Patrick Lynch wrote a white paper about reportedly deceptive employment statistics reported by law schools.

“There is nothing positive to say about the process by which the council adopted the proposal.Trust in law schools and the ABA have not been restored,” McEntee wrote Thursday at Above the Law. “Substantially changing the available consumer information without any input makes restoring that trust even more challenging.”

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.