Making Sense of Law Schools' Jobs Data

U.S. News collects and uses employment data for law students at graduation and nine months after.

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Now that new Best Law Schools rankings have been published, we want to give some perspective on the law school jobs data used in the latest rankings and what to expect in the future.

Anybody who is considering law school these days (and is wondering whether the investment would actually pay off in a job) may have noticed that there's been a lot of heated commentary over the last year about the usefulness of the employment data publicized by law schools, and much of it has been covered in this blog.

Each year, schools report to the American Bar Association how many of their most recent grads had jobs lined up by the time they were nine months out of school. U.S. News collects this statistic when we survey the schools for our annual rankings, along with data on how many members of the class were employed at graduation.

Both stats are used as measures in our Best Law Schools rankings and may be particularly important to prospective students now, given the debt loads many new J.D.'s carry and the disappearance of many of those $160,000 first-year associate positions. The concern has been that all types of employment are lumped together—legal, nonlegal, full time, part time, and even jobs funded by the law school itself. Some graduates have even sued, alleging that their law schools misled them about the job outlook.

The need for changed reporting standards has lately been the subject of much debate at law schools and at the ABA; in 2011, Sen. Barbara Boxer of California weighed in to strongly urge the ABA to require data detailed enough for students to better calculate the value of their degree.

Publishing accurate information is very important to U.S. News, and we're pleased to report that, while the hoped-for changes were not implemented in time for the ABA's current survey on the class of 2010 used in these new Best Law Schools rankings, far more detailed placement data will be collected on the 2011 J.D. graduating class.

In the meantime, we may choose from time to time on our website to add content to our school profiles pages when we obtain additional data (whether job placement, GPA, test scores or otherwise) about a school that we think is useful or where we learn information that changes the data.

The new, more granular reporting will reveal such vital information as how many graduates had jobs that are full time or part time, short term or long term, and that actually require the J.D. degree. For future rankings, U.S. News intends to incorporate these improved data into our methodology and include them in our profiles of each law school's latest graduating class.

Meanwhile, the placement information provided in the Best Law Schools rankings can certainly help guide your search for the right law school. You may just want to ask a few questions about how it breaks down.