ABA Falls Short in Efforts to Improve Law School Placement Data

ABA's new questions on law placement don't satisfy critics' demands for change.


The American Bar Association's initial efforts to collect and then eventually publish more robust data on post J.D. employment and job placement data are falling far short in some cases. That conclusion is based on an examination of the American Bar Association 2011 Annual Questionnaire's new questions on employment and salaries, which is the required survey that ABA accredited law schools have to fill out each year. The data that the ABA is currently collecting is for the J.D. graduating class of 2010. These new questions are the ABA's first effort to significantly improve the accuracy, transparency, and usefulness of law placement data.

[Read U.S. News's stance about law school employment data standards.]

The ABA's new placement questions are lagging on what is still needed, based on a July 27 ABA memo on Reporting Placement Data on Annual Questionnaire.

1. The ABA says it will not publish school specific salary data, but instead will publish salaries by state and region not linked to the performance of any school. These state and region results are not limited to the data from any particular law school. Prospective students want to know the average salaries of the graduates from each law school as part of being able to determine the economic viability of earning a J.D. degree from that school. The ABA should have the power to get law schools to report accurate salary data on a school-by-school basis and should trust law students to be able to understand the meaning and limits of such data.

2. In terms of employment data, the ABA is currently not asking law schools to report to them whether a graduate's job is full time or part time or whether a new J.D. graduate's job requires bar passage, whether a J.D. is preferred, or whether the job is a nonprofessional one. This is vital information that prospective students and current students need to be able to make a truly realistic assessment about the job prospects of graduates at each law school. Without it students can't determine the likelihood that their new J.D. degree will get them a full-time job in the legal field or a part-time position or a job where going to law school didn't matter. The ABA says it will add these questions for the class of 2011 graduates, but not for the 2010 graduates.

The ABA is going in the right direction in some areas:

1. The new questions do ask law schools to break down the status of whether each graduate is working in a position that is short term (which has a definite term of less than one year) or long term, that has a definite term of longer than one year. This means that for the first time, short-term and long-term employment will be unbundled.

2. For the first time law schools will have to report whether students have jobs that are law school funded. A job is law school funded, according to the ABA, if the law school or university is directly or indirectly paying for any part of the position. This is very important to know since it will show how many new J.D. grads are getting jobs in the real world.

U.S. News will collect the new ABA questions in fall 2011 and early 2012 for 2010 graduates. In addition, we are studying the possibility of asking the questions that the ABA is not asking in terms of full-time and part-time employment and J.D. required job or non-J.D. required job. U.S. News will continue to publish salaries on a school-by-school basis. There is some likelihood we will use this new jobs data to change the methodology used to calculate employment rates for the 2013 edition of the Best Law Schools rankings, to be published in 2012. Until U.S. News finishes collecting the new data, we are unable to specify how the methodology will change.

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