Law Schools

Law Schools Asked to Double Check: Did They Give ABA Low Numbers on Student Debt?

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Law schools are being asked to double check figures on average student debt submitted to the ABA after some school officials raised concerns that they may have underreported the figure.

The problem came to light after U.S. News & World Report published lists of schools this week with the highest and lowest average student debt. U.S. News asks law schools to provide the same debt numbers given to the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, which accredits law schools.

Scott Norberg, deputy consultant on legal education for the ABA, says he heard from three or four law schools that suspected they were incorrectly listed among schools with the least amount of student debt. “We just want to make sure the figures are right in our system so that we do have an accurate understanding of law school debt,” he tells the ABA Journal.

According to Norberg’s memo, emailed to law schools this morning, law schools were supposed to provide the ABA figures on total law school debt for 2010-2011 graduates. Some schools, however, apparently provided instead debt incurred by graduating students for the single 2010-11 school year.

The debt figures are not used by U.S. News in compiling its rankings, according to Robert Morse, director of data research for U.S. News. Nor are they published in the ABA-LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools. published information on average student debt based on ABA figures and U.S. News in a story earlier this week. In that story, average student debt was listed at $125,000 for graduates of private law schools last year. The average would be higher if schools have underreported average debt.

As of Friday morning, U.S. News had heard from only one school about an error in its debt numbers—and that school, John Marshall in Chicago, had overreported average student debt. As a result, it was removed from the U.S. News list of the 10 schools with the heaviest average debt loads.

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