Law Schools

Public Favors Proposed Law School Disclosure Requirements; Some Want School-Specific Pay Data, Too

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The public has spoken. And its collective response to the ABA’s proposed changes in the law school disclosure requirements to date, while muted, has generally been favorable. A few commentators have expressed concern about the possible impacts of particular provisions. Others have urged the ABA to go even further in what information it would require law schools to disclose.

But a majority of those who have chosen to comment on the proposed changes—by which we mean nine of the dozen individuals and entities that have formally voiced an opinion on the matter in writing—have expressed strong support for the proposed revisions to the law school accreditation standards governing what consumer information law schools are required to publicly disclose to prospective students. The governing council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, the ABA’s accrediting arm, approved the revisions for notice and comment in March.

If adopted, the proposed changes would require law schools to publish far more detailed consumer information on their websites than they are required to now, including admissions data, bar passage rates, job placement information and conditional scholarship retention rates.

They would also toughen the sanctions that could be imposed on law schools that violate the standards and allow a school to be sanctioned for a violation of the standards that has subsequently been corrected.

All of the comments that have been received to date are in writing. The committee also held a public hearing on the proposals Tuesday at which no one appeared to speak. The proposals now go back to the council for final consideration at its June 8-9 meeting in Boston.

Several commentators have strongly endorsed the proposed changes.

“Transparency and full disclosure should be a guiding star in our profession,” wrote LeAnn Nease Brown, a Chapel Hill, N.C. lawyer who serves on the board of directors of the UNC Law Alumni Association. “This proposal will help improve transparency and promote full disclosure in connection with the law school data.”

Charlotte, N.C., lawyer E. Fitzgerald Parnell III, a North Carolina state delegate to the ABA House of Delegates, which must approve any changes adopted by the council, offered his unconditional support.

“As someone who believes that consumers, including those who are considering attending law school, are entitled to honest reporting of relevant data on a consistent basis, I salute the efforts of [the Standards Review Committee, which drafted the proposed changes], to help attain this important goal.”

A few commentators, however, took issue with council’s decision not to require law schools to disclose school-specific salary data.

Kyle McEntee, co-founder and executive director of Law School Transparency, a nonprofit organization working to improve consumer information about the value of a legal education, said that while school-specific salary data isn’t perfect, it adds an important element to a prospective student’s understanding of a school’s value that statewide salary data will not.

McEntee called the decision not to require the posting of school-specific salary data “an enormous step backwards” for the section, one which he said would make the ABA “partially responsible for misleading people trying to figure out how much debt to assume.”

Brian Tamanaha, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, said there is no ideal solution to the problem of misleading salary data. But he said the publication of statewide salary data is worse than publishing school-specific salary data because it favors law schools whose graduates are doing the poorest in the job market.

“The ABA should collect the salaries on a school-specific basis,” he wrote. “Only then can prospective students get a sense of their potential expected earnings at a given school.”

The Truth in Law School Education Committee of the ABA’s Young Lawyers Division voiced similar sentiments. It said adopting the proposed changes without the school-specific salary data would leave out a crucial piece of information that prospective students need when deciding whether a legal education is a wise financial investment.

Last updated to clarify that all public comments on the proposals have been in writing.

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