Another Law Ranking Methodology Change

Changes in the way that the ABA gathers unemployment data will also affect our calculations.

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There is one change U.S. News will have to make to our law school ranking methodology because, for the second year in a row, the American Bar Association has changed the way it requires law schools to report their job-placement data. We will accordingly modify the way we compute the percentage of 2007 law school graduates employed at graduation (and nine months after).

All ABA-accredited law schools must fill out the 2008 ABA questionnaire, and—for our rankings—we ask these law schools to report those same data to us. On this year's questionnaire, when asking about the Feb. 15, 2008, job status of a law school's 2007 graduates, the ABA created two separate categories for those law school graduates who are not working: unemployed and seeking work or unemployed and not seeking work.

On last year's ABA questionnaire this distinction did not exist, so they were all counted as unemployed by U.S. News in the current (2009) law rankings. For the 2010 law rankings (to be published in the spring of '09), U.S. News will not count those graduates who are unemployed and not seeking work as part of our employment calculations. This is a return to how we did the employment rate calculations in the rankings from 1990 through 2008. This is also the same way the Department of Labor computes the national unemployment rate.

Will this make the employment statistics more accurate? We've talked to staffers at law school career offices who said it was unfair to count those who were unemployed and studying for their state bar as unemployed. Ditto for parents with young children or about to have a child. However, if law schools use this opportunity to include other students who truly don't belong in the unemployed and not seeking category as a way of boosting their employment rates, then it will make the data for the 2007 graduates less accurate than it was for the previous year's class when it was not possible to use that data manipulation.

In other words, the jury is still out.