Law Schools

ABA Legal Ed Section to Draft a Standard Specifying Penalties for Schools That Misrepresent Data

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Updated: The ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar is defending the way it manages the collection and reporting of law school placement data.

The section also is reiterating its commitment to the clarity and accuracy of such data by vowing to vigorously enforce the standard requiring law schools to fairly and accurately report basic consumer information, including job placement data, or risk the possible loss of accreditation.

The statement, issued Monday, comes in the wake of recent revelations that two law schools—Villanova University and the University of Illinois—have falsfied admissions data reported to the section.

It also comes in response to criticism from U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and others that the section is somehow dragging its feet on its pledge to begin collecting more detailed job placement data from schools.

In a separate letter (PDF) to Boxer Thursday, the section added more detail to the statement it issued Monday. But it also addresses her concern that some law schools are using merit scholarships to attract prospective students without adequately disclosing the risks that those scholarships will be lost.

The section says it is aware of the issues raised by such scholarships and is working to address them. Because law schools are not required to offer scholarships, and the terms and amounts of any scholarships vary widely among schools, the section does not specify any requirements for their renewal. But it recognizes the consumer information implications of the matter, it says, because the standards require law schools to publish basic consumer information in a fair and accurate manner, including information on tuition and refunds, financial aid, placement rates and bar passage.

In its earlier statement, the section says the ABA relies on law schools to provide fair and accurate consumer information. And it warns that schools that violate the standard face the possibility of serious penalties, up to and including the loss of accreditation. Villanova was censured in August for submitting falsified data to the section.

Nonetheless, section chair John F. O’Brien, dean of New England Law, has directed the section’s standards review committee, which is overhauling the standards, to draft a new standard that provides for specific and severe penalties for the intentional misreporting of placement data, including possible monetary fines and loss of accreditation. The committee, which meets early next month, will take up the matter immediately.

The statement also notes that the section’s questionnaire committee has been working for more than a year to expand the amount of job placement data schools are required to report. In its efforts to increase the clarity, accuracy and accountability of the data, law schools will be required to report that information directly to the section rather than to the National Association for Law Placement, as they have in the past, which will allow the data to be published a year after a class graduates, a full year earlier than in previous years.

The section is also expanding and refining the quality of the placement data law schools must disclose, beginning with the class of 2010, which asks schools to provide information about employment status, type, location, whether such jobs are short- or long-term, and how many are funded by the school itself.

Going forward, the section is also improving on the employment definitions used by NALP, including whether a job requires a law degree, bar passage, is in law or another profession and is full or part-time, beginning with the class of 2011.

“There should be no doubt that the section is fully committed to the clarity and accuracy of law school placement data,” the statement says. “We intend that by vigorously enforcing the standard that requires fair and accurate reporting of consumer information, and by having law schools report more comprehensive, specific consumer information. As a result, those students who choose to enter law school will be better informed about the prospects for employment than ever before.”

Last updated Oct. 20 to add information about the letter to Sen. Boxer.

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