Law Schools

Sen. Barbara Boxer Accuses ABA of Taking 'Half Measures' to Collect Better Job Stats

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The controversy over law school job statistics didn’t end when the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar decided to collect and disseminate more detailed data.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., announced today that she has written a letter to ABA President Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III that takes issue with the timing. In her view, the Legal Education Section, which accredits law schools for the U.S. Department of Education, should have begun its collection efforts more quickly. “It is surprising that the ABA is resorting to half measures instead of tackling a major problem head on,” she writes.

Boxer is among the critics who point out that law schools often tout high employment rates for law grads without disclosing whether the jobs require a law degree. “We know that most law schools report that nearly all of their students have jobs shortly after graduation,” she writes. “The difference between the information reported by schools and the real legal employment rate for recent graduates is very troubling. That is why requiring law schools to accurately report the real legal employment rate of their graduates is so important.”

To illustrate the problem, she cites an analysis by Brian Tamanaha, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis. He studied information compiled by the nonprofit Law School Transparency from U.S. News & World Report and noted a sobering statistic for the class of 2009: At 30 law schools, only 50 percent or fewer of the graduates had obtained jobs as lawyers nine months after graduation.

The Legal Education Section announced this summer that it will tackle the transparency issue with the collection of more detailed data, but it’s doing so in a two-stage process. A few new questions were added to a questionnaire mailed in August seeking information about jobs held by 2010 law graduates nine months after graduation. The new questions ask whether the grads’ jobs were short- or long-term, and whether they were funded by the schools.

In the second stage, the section will add several more questions to a February 2012 questionnaire asking about the nature of jobs held by 2011 law graduates. The results will be published online by about July 2012, an accelerated schedule that will get the information to the public nearly a year ahead of the usual time.

That isn’t quick enough for Boxer, who has written two previous letters to the ABA expressing her concerns. “I was very disappointed to learn that the section decided not to require that law schools report the percentage of their graduates working in the legal profession or the percentage of graduates working in part-time legal jobs in its upcoming questionnaire,” she wrote in the latest letter, apparently referencing the questionnaire that is currently in the field.

Arthur Gaudio, the dean of Western New England University School of Law in Springfield, Mass., chairs the Legal Education Section’s Questionnaire Committee. He defended the two-stage process in an ABA Journal interview in late September, saying extra time was needed to draft the questions and define the new categories.

He gave an example of the problems being tackled by his committee. How should a law graduate who has an accounting job be classified? Is this a JD preferred job? Is it a job in another profession? Is it both?

“It’s going to take work by the committee to come up with the right questions,” Gaudio said in the September interview. “But we’re determined to make it happen.”

Boxer’s letter also calls for the auditing of law school statistics and the dissemination of information about the risks of accepting merit scholarships.

Law School Transparency notes Boxer’s letter.

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