Law Schools

Hot Topics on ABA Meeting Agenda: Post-Law-School Jobs Data; 'Revolutionary' Legal Ed Changes?

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Already expected to be well-attended because of a hot topic on the agenda for discussion—rules for reporting post-law school employment—a meeting of the American Bar Association Standards Review Committee this weekend is heating up further as the Association of American Law Schools enters the fray to protest what it describes as potential “revolutionary” changes in legal education.

In a March 28 letter (PDF posted by TaxProf Blog), the AALS expresses concern about the way attorneys would be educated at ABA-accredited law schools if what the group sees as a significant possible change in direction is pursued under a worrisome “combination of the proposals … that contribute to the weakening of the American model of legal education.”

Specifically, the letter cites a proposed reduction in the “requirements for full-time, committed faculty,” among other issues, as a signpost pointing toward a possible scenario in which “an open access bar review course could be accredited as a law school if it also offered lectures about online research and traditional lawyer values, had student papers graded by people who had never met the students, and assigned each student to one field placement based ‘course,’ taught and supervised by an adjunct.”

The letter calls for discussion and debate on “the larger vision that animates these proposals.”

Meanwhile, another topic of discussion at the committee meeting this weekend has already made headlines, after a subcommittee memo (PDF) earlier this month called for law schools to revise the way they report jobs data concerning their graduates.

As law graduates struggle in a difficult economy to find not only good jobs but, in some cases, any jobs making use of their legal education, a number have been publicly complaining they were misled by law schools painting a too-rosy picture of the post-graduation situation.

“Over the past few years, there has been a great deal of criticism directed at law schools for their public presentation of employment information. Much of this criticism is warranted,” the subcommittee writes, saying that “too much information is presented in a potentially misleading fashion.” However, it also notes that the current job-reporting standards are “vague.”

Key proposed changes, according to the memo, would require law schools to calculate the percentage of employed graduates by a standardized method and, contrary to the current practice of a number of law schools, would require the percentage of employed graduates to be “based on the entire graduating class, with only those known to be employed being counted as such.” Presently, it is routine for some law schools and U.S. News & World Report’s annual law school rankings to assume that some graduates who cannot be located are employed.

Another issue, the memo notes, is that post-graduate employment may include jobs that are nonlegal, temporary, part-time or even funded by the law school. “This can create a misleading impression about the true success of the school’s graduates,” the subcommittee writes. “We believe that the best approach is to require schools to disclose more disaggregated data about these categories of jobs.”

Among those weighing in on this issue is U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who sent a letter today to ABA President Stephen Zack. In it, she urged that law schools be required to “ensure potential students have a full understanding of the costs and benefits of legal education,” the National Law Journal reported.

The Standards Review Committee meeting will be held April 2 and 3 in Chicago and will offer opportunity for public comment Saturday morning.

Additional coverage:

Am Law Daily: “Reporting Changes in Law School Accreditation Standards Urged”

Legal Skills Prof Blog: “ABA Standards Review sub-committee recommends law schools post employment data on their websites”

National Law Journal: “Law school accreditation proposal would boost job placement transparency”

Tax Prof Blog: “AALS Goes to War Over ABA’s Proposed Accreditation Standards Changes”

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