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The ABA Zeroes in on Law School Employment Data

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but law schools have been shamelessly inflating their employment statistics for years. Shocking, I know.

After cracking down on the way schools report their LSAT scores (a scandal or two helped push in that direction, *cough* Villanova and Illinois *cough*), the ABA has now turned its attention to law school employment data. In fact, the ABA is currently soliciting proposals, so feel free to throw your hat in the ring.

This is going to be a much more difficult program than the one designed to ensure correct LSAT info. For admissions data, the LSAC acts as a central repository for all law school application data. Anyone who has an LSAT score took the test through LSAC. Anyone who applied to law schools registered for an account and sent in their transcripts to LSAC. All the ABA had to do was cross-reference the data provided by law schools with the data collected by the LSAC, and they had a way to verify the numbers. It’s so easy, in fact, that it raises questions as to why it hadn’t been doing this all along.

Employment numbers, on the other hand, don’t have a central repository. Law schools rely a lot on self-reported data (though those numbers tend to be skewed by a selection bias and some chicanery on the part of the law schools). Response rates tend to be low, and law schools define ‘employed’ in some interesting ways: Flipping burgers with that JD? You’re employed!

Underemployment is also a problem in the legal field. There really isn’t a shortage of work if you want to contract yourself out to firms who have more doc review than they know what to do with. You won’t earn a salary (or be eligible for benefits), but you will technically be working in a job that requires a JD.

Finally, law schools have been hiring some of their unemployed graduates so that they can artificially boost their numbers. Shenanigans, I say.

So what’s the solution? The team over at Law School Transparency is doing a pretty good job. I highly recommend every prospective law student take a look at their site and see more realistic job prospects and loan repayment rates for law schools at which they’re considering enrolling.

So ABA – my proposal is that you take a look at LST as a jumping-off point. Maybe even bring them into the fold for this project (heck, the team is mostly made up of lawyers anyway, so they’re already ABA members). And you’re going to have to cede control. Because there’s a whole lot more room to fudge employment data than there is application data (you have an LSAT and GPA – there’s no other considerations). Your track record isn’t perfect (as the LSAT reporting scandal brought to light), and questions are going to crop up if you don’t let an independent group take care of this.