Bar News - March 18, 2011
Helping Future Generations of Lawyers
By: Kyle McEntee and Patrick J. Lynch
In 2011, nearly 50,000 law students will begin to invest in their legal education, expecting to derive value from both the educational experience and the JD itself. For most of these students, the decision to attend law school requires a costly investment of time and money. Unfortunately, most will attend without an accurate idea of how well the schoolís graduates tend to fare in the job market. Even for those in the know, accessing quality employment information is a difficult and frustrating process.
Despite oversight from the ABA, schools have enormous leeway in what employment information they share and in how they choose to portray it. Some prospective students will recognize the lack of useful, reliable information from the start and will still choose to attend, but many wonít realize an information asymmetry exists until after school begins. Law schools certainly donít deserve the blame for the economic collapse or the transformation of the legal market that came with it, but they are responsible for how they portray information about job outcomes when recruiting new students.
Many students and graduates are discouraged and angry about a disclosure process they believe is unfair. Many are wondering whether law schools will ever address concerns about how they share knowledge about the realities of the legal job market. Schools have a duty to be more transparent, while the ABA has a duty to ensure that schools report employment information in a fair and accurate manner. And contrary to how the schools and the ABA currently execute these duties, prospective law students deserve this information at the beginning of the process, before they submit their applications. Convincing the schools and the ABA to educate prospective students earlier, and formulating a solution that is efficient and desirable, requires a lot of work. Thatís where we come in.
Law School Transparency
Chances are that you Ė like us Ė can empathize with these 50,000 prospective law students, as well as the hundreds of thousands that will follow them in years to come. We founded our non-profit organization, Law School Transparency (LST), because of the difficulty that prospective students have with accessing and interpreting information about law school job prospects.
LST began as a small organization with a dedicated team of current law students. Unlike some of the more vocal critics of legal education, we didnít start this project because we were upset with our decisions to attend law school or because the job market is terrible. LST was established because we wanted to improve the legal profession, and because we believed that this can be achieved on a number of levels by better informing applicants.
We know from our research that law schools already collect significantly more employment data than they report. Schools frequently over-represent top graduates without providing information about the rest of the class, or show the starting salaries of a few respondents as if those are indicative of the entire class. To resolve these issues, the easiest solution is to simply disclose more of the data that schools already collect.
Schools must do a better job with this if they want to fulfill their obligation to fairly and adequately inform prospective students about the nature of the legal profession and the opportunities within it. Regardless of the economic climate, prospective students should have better information when deciding whether to make the enormous investment in a law degree.
In response to this problem, we have aimed to improve employment information by calling for the reform of existing reporting standards. From the beginning, our strategy has been to raise the profile of this failure to adequately inform applicants. While schools have refused or simply ignored LSTís request, a growing consensus about the necessity of reform has shifted attention to the ABA, which can mandate reform of the reporting standards.
If you are a recent graduate, you have witnessed the challenges of the current legal market and perhaps experienced the consequences of unrealized expectations. Some of you have also become involved in alumni or bar associations, where your role as a new member can be to encourage dialogue between more seasoned members of the profession and the administrators of your alma mater.
How to Get Involved
Regardless of where you are in your career, your knowledge and leverage mean that you can do something about the problem. Schools have refused to budge, offering up a number of excuses as to why change is not feasible.
We are confident that administrators at a number of law schools are starting to see the way forward. But for the rest who still need to be convinced, they need to hear from people like you. As you look back on your legal education, we hope you will think about these issues and get involved. Even if you do not wish to get involved directly with your school, you can still make a difference by letting us know if you have any ideas or concerns.
One of the most rewarding parts of working on this project is the level of support weíve seen from people across the legal profession. Our hope is that as things progress, more of you will find a way to join in the conversation and help restore some of the values of the profession.
A longer version of this article was originally published on BeyondHearsay.com.
Law School Transparency is a Tennessee non-profit dedicated to encouraging and facilitating the transparent flow of law school employment information. It was founded by two Vanderbilt University Law School students in 2009. LST and its administrators operate independently of any legal institutions, legal employers, or academic reports related to the legal market. Visit www.lawschooltransparency.com.