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Law Schools still not disclosing job information

Legal Notebook

Published: February 2, 2012

Law schools continue to act as if nobody reads their websites—especially potential new students, in a continuing pattern of half-truths, deceptive statistics, and secrecy. Even after Congress got involved last year, and even in the midst of litigation on the topic, law school websites have still refused to provide accurate information about the job placement of their graduates to potential students.

So found the rabble-rousing organization Law School Transparency (LST), who actually did look at 197 law school websites to try to determine whether or not those schools posted useful information that may help potential students make decisions about which law schools to attend. Yep—they actually read the websites that most schools seemingly don’t want anyone to read.

Law School Transparency was founded by two Vanderbilt University law students several years ago to try to hold legal academia’s feet to the fire in providing useful consumer information.

LST created a list of 19 criteria, or areas of information, that it felt law schools should disclose on their websites.

Those websites were found sorely wanting—still, even after enormous amounts of this negative publicity, law schools are still deaf to the needs of the public, the LST survey found.

"The post-graduation employment information schools provide is surprisingly shallow in light of the pressures they face, including congressional scrutiny, the very real threat of class action lawsuits, and the deluge of media attention," the report said. "But a lack of honest disclosure has also come to be what's expected of American law schools—the result of a crisis of confidence."

The report found that the amount of information on the law school websites has increased but the amount of useful information has not: more writing, more confusion, less utilitarian information.

In contrast, the results of the survey, said the report, were, “"simultaneously shocking and predictable."

For example, the report cites the law school of the University of Chicago, which received positive publicity when it increased the amount of information posted a few months ago. But, noted the report, the school did not disclose the number of jobs funded by the school itself, or whether graduates were in full-time, part-time, long-term or short-term jobs.

The LST criteria are a familiar list to anyone who is following this story. The organization wants law schools to post unfiltered information regarding the types of jobs graduates obtain, including if the jobs exist, and if they are full or part-time, the size of the hiring law firms, if the job requires a law degree, if the job is school-funded, and other like criteria.

Among the chief findings of this report:

“27 percent [of surveyed law schools] do not provide any evaluable information on their websites for class of 2010 employment outcomes. Of those 54 schools, 22 do not provide any employment information on their website whatsoever. The other 32 schools demonstrate a pattern of consumer-disoriented behavior.”

“51 percent of schools fail to indicate how many graduates actually responded to their survey. Response rates provide applicants with a way to gauge the usefulness of survey results, a sort of back-of-the-envelope margin of error. Without the rate, schools can advertise employment rates north of 95 percent without explaining that the true employment rate is unknown, and likely lower.”

“17 percent of schools indicate how many graduates were employed in full-time vs. part-time jobs. 10% indicate how many were employed in long-term vs. short-term jobs. 10 percent of schools report how many graduates were employed in school-funded jobs.”

“49 percent of schools provide at least some salary information, but the vast majority of those schools (78 percent) provide the information in ways that mislead the reader.” The report then went on to show how job statistics can be posted that look like they are releasing relevant information, but, in fact, do not.

Only two schools scored a 100 percent against the 19 criteria—Michigan State and Southwestern Law Schools. Only five other schools even did a “good job”—Thomas Jefferson, Houston, Denver, Florida and Seattle.

None of them, of course, is in the top tier of law schools, and the study did show that lower-tier law schools were more likely to be transparent in their disclosures than higher-ranked schools. The three top-ranked schools identified by LST founder Kyle McEntee (in a subsequent interview) as doing a “decent” job of reporting are Vanderbilt, Yale and Northwestern.

Even though the report indicates that many law schools are admittedly doing a better job of posting relevant graduate statistics, it does not look like they understand what they need to do to stem the growing tide of Congressional inquiry or litigation.