U.S. News Urges Law School Deans to Improve Employment Data

Additional law school employment data will be published along with new rankings.

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The release of the new 2012 Best Law Schools rankings is scheduled for March 15, 2011. In an effort to make our law school employment data more reflective of the current state of legal employment, U.S. News has modified how we calculate the employment rates that are used in the new law school rankings. We will also be publishing more detailed law school employment data on our website as part of the new rankings.

U.S. News agrees with the efforts of Law School Transparency to improve employment information from law schools and make the data more widely available. We are also aware that the American Bar Association is studying changes to the standards that law schools must use when they report employment data for graduates. We agree that more still needs to be done by all parties. To that end, U.S. News Editor Brian Kelly reached out to law school deans in a letter mailed earlier this week. Below is the full text of the letter:

Dear Dean ___,

As you know, there have been some serious questions raised about the reliability of employment data reported by some schools of law to the American Bar Association and other sources. I write with some reluctance because it is not our role at U.S.News & World Report to be any sort of regulatory body over law schools or anyone else. We are a journalism company that gathers and analyzes information useful to our readers.

But I think we can all agree that it is not in anyone's interest—especially that of prospective students—to have less than accurate data being put out by law schools. It's creating a crisis of confidence in the law school sector that is unnecessary and we think could be easily fixed.

Specifically, employment after graduation is relevant data that prospective students and other consumers should be entitled to. Many graduate business schools are meticulous about collecting such data, even having it audited. The entire law school sector is perceived to be less than candid because it does not pursue a similar, disciplined approach to data collection and reporting.

At U.S. News, we work to make meaningful and fair comparisons, based on industry-accepted data. We provide a great deal of information to prospective students and serve an important function as an intermediary between them and schools such as yours. We have become popular because people value the information we provide, and many schools have benefitted from the exposure our coverage has given them.

To accomplish this, we rely on a certain amount of goodwill and ethical behavior from the various institutions that we survey, and our experience has been that the vast majority of them behave ethically. It is not our role to be setting industry standards nor enforcing them. However it is our responsibility to provide accurate information to our readers. To eliminate some of the gaming that seems to be taking place, we have changed the way we compute employment rates for the rankings due out March 15. In addition, we will also be publishing more career data than we have in the past in an effort to help students more completely understand the current state of legal employment. We think more still needs to be done.

The main responsibility to gather data and implement quality standards lies with the ABA, which also accredits law schools. For whatever reason, it appears that some schools do not treat the ABA reporting rules with the seriousness one would assume. We understand that the ABA is working toward the creation of tighter, more meaningful standards, which seem promising.

But the ABA can't do it alone. Whatever the ABA's ultimate decision, we would urge you to make sure that the information your school is reporting is as accurate as possible, and to consider going beyond the current industry standards. Perhaps we need metrics besides total employment rates to evaluate a successful law program. More data—on employment or other topics—is a positive factor for our readers and your students. We stand ready to work with you to find ways of publishing it.

Sincerely,

Brian Kelly