Legal Education

Student loan data will become part of law schools' ABA required disclosures

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Starting with the 2023-2024 school year, law schools’ Standard 509 Information Reports will include information about the number of students who receive student loans, and the data will be categorized by race, ethnicity and gender.

The council of the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar approved the change Friday, when it met virtually. Data collection for loan information will start with the 2022-2023 school year, according to a memo from the questionnaire and template committee.

The council also approved a committee recommendation that the reports include data about students who receive scholarships and grants that is categorized by race, ethnicity and gender. Committee members found the information would help the council determine law school compliance with Standard 206, which addresses diversity and inclusion.

Proposed revisions to that standard recently went out for notice and comment, and they generated many responses. Consequently, the standards committee in an Aug. 16 memo asked the council to push back its vote on a proposed revision and give more guidance. That request was also approved.

The proposal includes a public reporting requirement if a law school falls out of compliance with Standard 206 and adds “ethnicity,” “gender identity or expression” and “military status” to its definition of underrepresented groups. Additionally, it suggests adding guidance language about what actions demonstrate compliance. Currently, Standard 206 requires schools to take “concrete action” to show compliance, and some have said the language is vague.

Law schools in Puerto Rico, the memo notes, as well as those associated with historically Black colleges and universities, have many students of color. The standards committee asked if it is beneficial to attend law schools where most everyone is from the same racial or ethnic group, or if such schools should be required to enroll more white students. “We understand that this is not likely the case; however, we want to better understand what the council is looking for in terms of action or progress related to diversity since commenters expressed concern that progress was not defined,” the memo states.

The memo listed another way to revise the standard: by clarifying that people from underrepresented groups in the legal profession should be included among the student body, faculty and staff.

The proposed revision also drew criticism beyond the comments sent to the council, including a Wall Street Journal opinion piece titled “Why the Lawyers Cartel is Pushing for Woke Law Schools,” written by Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law professor John O. McGinnis.

In response, then-ABA President Patricia Lee Refo wrote in a July 22 letter to the newspaper that the council serves as a national accreditor of law schools and is an independent arm of the association. Refo, a litigation partner at Snell & Wilmer in Phoenix, also noted this was a proposal that could be revised considering the amount of responses from notice and comment.

“The ABA is steadfastly committed to eliminating bias and enhancing inclusion in the legal profession and the justice system. The current legal education standards reflect those objectives. I am confident the council, as it reviews revisions to its diversity and inclusion standards, will weigh all views and make decisions that are in the best interests of legal education and its many stakeholders,” she wrote.

The council on Friday did approve other proposed standards revisions, which are expected to go to the ABA House of Delegates for approval at the midyear meeting in February. They include:

    • Adding “ethnicity,” “gender identity or expression” and “military status” to language in Standard 205, and adding language requiring law schools to adopt, publish and follow nondiscrimination policies.
    • Adding a new requirement that law schools provide education about bias, cross-cultural competency and racism to Standard 303, which focuses on curriculum. The offerings should take place at the start of a student’s legal education program and at least once more before graduation.
    • Adding language to Standard 507, which deals with student loan programs, that would require schools to provide applicants and students with loan counseling.
    • Changing Standard 508, which addresses student support services, to require schools to provide students with information or services related to mental health, including substance use disorders.

Additionally, the council approved changes to the annual employment summary report, which law schools must submit with employment data from recent graduates. For the class of 2021 employment summaries, the category wording “employed-nonprofessional” will be changed to “employed-other,” and people who have deferred employment because they are new parents, have an illness or are caring for sick family members will be exempt from being counted, rather than classified as “unemployed.” The revision suggestions were made in an Aug. 10 staff memo.

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