The Law School Admissions Council has thrown its latest tantrum.
In a letter to admissions professionals around the country, LSAC’s president, Daniel Bernstine, signaled that LSAC would stop certifying the accuracy of each law school’s LSAT and undergraduate GPA statistics. The certification is a joint effort between LSAC and the ABA to prevent law schools from lying about their admissions statistics.
LSAC agreed to certify admissions statistics in 2012 after months of roundly dismissing calls for certification. The group had claimed that certification would be cost prohibitive, despite nearly $60 million in total revenue in 2011 and a $10.7 million surplus in 2012. The group also claimed that certification was outside the scope of its organizational mission, despite its member law schools saying that LSAC was best positioned to protect the integrity of the admissions process.
Pressure mounted in 2011 and 2012 for LSAC to help the ABA after two law schools intentionally reported fraudulent data to the ABA and elsewhere, including to U.S. News and World Report for their annual law school rankings. In February 2011, Villanova University School of Law reported that an official at the law school intentionally reported fabricated LSAT and GPA statistics for an unknown number of years prior to 2010. Later that year, the University of Illinois College of Law admitted to intentionally fabricating the same statistics over a seven-year period. The school’s assistant dean for admissions and financial aid, Paul Pless, resigned as a result of the controversy.
This tantrum is LSAC’s second one this year. Both came after the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law announced that the school would allow applicants to submit GRE scores in place of LSAT scores.
At that time, LSAC threatened to strip Arizona of its membership, which would eliminate access to a variety of services. LSAC walked back the threat in May after pressure from its membership and anti-trust concerns.
So why is the ABA now the latest recipient of LSAC’s retribution?
In response to law schools hoping to utilize the GRE as a non-exclusive alternative to the LSAT, which is designed and administered by LSAC, the ABA is examining whether the GRE meets Standard 503. That standard provides that schools must use a “valid and reliable admission test to assist the school and the applicant in assessing the applicant’s capability of satisfactorily completing the school’s program of legal education.” The LSAT is the only nationally validated test as of right now, though Arizona independently validated the GRE and other schools are trying to also.
Earlier this summer, a federal panel recommended suspending the ABA’s power to accredit new law schools for one year. The transcript for that meeting has now been published, so we can examine in detail what happened. It’s clear that the panel intended its action to “send a signal” to the ABA Council that accredits law schools. All of us in legal education need to hear that signal: It affects the standards we adopt for accrediting law schools, as well as the eligibility of our students to take the bar exam.
I just finished reading a transcript of the meeting during which the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity recommended that the Department of Education suspend the ABA’s power to accredit new law schools for one year. The transcript reveals some interesting details about the committee’s concerns; I will summarize those soon.
But before I do that, I can’t resist reporting the views of two “third party commenters” who spoke during the hearing. Committee rules gave each of these individuals 3 minutes to share their views.
The crisis in legal education was supposed to be over by now. The recession, after all, ended in June 2009. Even allowing for a slow recovery, legal educators predicted that JD hiring would be robust by this point. When applications fell and schools cut class sizes, educators hoped for a recovery bonus: An improved job market, combined with smaller graduating classes, would boost placement rates and attract applicants back to law school. Meanwhile, some projected, the economy would suffer a lawyer shortage.
Things haven’t worked out that way. As the ABA employment report for the Class of 2015 shows, JD employment remains depressed–and there is some evidence of a downward trend. In this post, I explain why law schools need to take this news very seriously.
As promised, I explain here a quirk in the ABA’s employment report for the Class of 2015. That report shows that 62.4% of the 2015 graduates obtained jobs that require bar admission (“lawyering” jobs), while just 59.2% of the graduates secured lawyering jobs that were also full-time and long-term (i.e., expected to last at least one year).
Those percentages are sobering in themselves, but they are even more worrisome when compared to percentages for the Class of 2014. For the latter class, the ABA reports that 64.1% of graduates obtained lawyering jobs, with 59.9% of the graduates landing full-time, long-term jobs in that category. The percentage of graduates securing lawyering jobs, in other words, seems to have declined.
Things are bad, but not quite that bad. Here’s where the data quirk comes in.
After a few data glitches, the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar has released its report on employment outcomes for the Class of 2015. The Section’s scorecard, comparing the Class of 2015 to the Class of 2014, appears here.
The numbers are pretty sobering: Absolute numbers declined in every employment category. Law firms, for example, hired 1,574 fewer graduates than they did in 2014. That’s a dismaying decrease of 8.8%. Government employers showed similar retrenchment: They too hired 8.8% fewer graduates in 2015.
Graduating class size also fell 8.8% between 2014 and 2015, which shored up the percentage of 2015 graduates obtaining jobs. Law schools, however, did not gain much ground in placing a higher percentage of their graduates. Smaller classes merely kept pace with a contracting job market.
I will have more details tomorrow, including an explanation for why the percentage declines in the top ten lines of the table are overstated. The news on those lines, which detail jobs requiring bar passage and those for which a JD is considered an advantage, is disheartening–but not quite as bad as the reported percentages suggest. The ABA changed its reporting methods between 2014 and 2015, so those comparisons match pineapples to prunes–a fruit salad you would never want to serve.
*Update: For those of you who can’t sleep until the data match, Jerry Organ has figured out the discrepancy described below. The spreadsheet on the ABA site is too comprehensive: It includes Hamline, William Mitchell, and Mitchell/Hamline as separate (and duplicative) entries. Eliminate the entries for the first two schools, while retaining the combined Mitchell/Hamline, and the figures on the spreadsheet match the scorecard. Data deliverance!
For the last several years, the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar has collected increasingly helpful data about employment outcomes for law school graduates. Data about individual schools, as well as a spreadsheet combining all data, are displayed at this website. The Section also posts a “scorecard” summarizing key statistics for the graduating class; those scorecards appear here.
Data for the Class of 2015 are now available, and both bloggers and mainstream media have started to report on those numbers. Unfortunately, however, the data appear to be in flux. The ABA posted several versions of the spreadsheet yesterday, as it worked to include all schools. The current spreadsheet appears comprehensive, but the totals do not match those appearing on the scorecard.
So, if you see conflicting numbers in the press, don’t be confused. Several professors have been in touch with the ABA Section, and we will analyze the data further once we are sure that it is in final form. Meanwhile, no excuse for not grading exams….
Updated at 8:30 p.m. to reflect several changes*
The ABA has just released employment statistics for the Class of 2015. As Jerry Organ speculated over the weekend, the report is decidedly mixed. The percentage of graduates holding full-time, long-term jobs requiring bar passage edged up slightly, from 59.9% in 2014 to 60.3% in 2015.
This small increase, however, resulted from the drop in the number of graduates–rather than from any increase in available jobs. Graduates fell 9.2% between the two years, from 43,832 in 2014 to 39,817 in 2015. The actual number of FTLT bar-required jobs also fell, from 26,248 in 2014 to 23,993 in 2015. That’s a hefty decline of 2,255 jobs or 8.6%.
These figures encompass all ABA-accredited law schools, including the three Puerto Rico schools. For this initial comparison, I also counted school-funded jobs. In later analyses, I will break those out.
I will have updates on these figures as I work more with the ABA spreadsheet. The results, however, are not the good news that law schools were hoping to hear. Nor are prospective students likely to greet these figures as heralding a surge in the legal employment market. This summer would be a good time to reflect further on challenges and opportunities for law schools; I hope to contribute to that discussion.
* This year’s ABA spreadsheet includes several hidden columns, which affected some of my earlier calculations. The gist hasn’t changed, but the numbers have shifted slightly.
The ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar took several significant actions at its March 11–12 meeting. The first of these was approval of several changes in Standards 304 and 305, which govern experiential learning and non-classroom educational experiences. Some of the changes adjust guidelines for supervision of externships; the most controversial allows schools to award externship credit for paid positions.
I have written several times to express my support for this change. Individual schools may still choose to ban paid externships, but the path should soon be open for schools to integrate these externships within their educational programs. The ABA House of Delegates will vote on the change, probably at its August 2016 meeting, but that vote does not bind the Council. [Updated at 4:45 p.m. to correct meaning of ABA’s vote.]
The responsibility now lies with law schools to implement this change wisely. I supported the change because I hope it will help us find innovative ways to educate students more thoroughly for law practice, as well as to help employers develop lasting frameworks for education in the workplace. We won’t accomplish either of those goals unless law schools devote real resources, energy, and collaboration to working with employers on these externships.
If your law school has an innovative idea for creating paid externships–or if you’re an individual with such an idea–please send me an email (email@example.com). I hope to feature good ideas here and promote discussion around them. Few ideas are perfect at their inception but, through discussion and sharing, perhaps we can refine ideas that will achieve our educational goals. Consider it online workshopping of pedagogic ideas!
Originally published on Above the Law.
In the face of financial pressure from rapidly falling enrollment, law schools have made ethically questionable admissions and student retention decisions. Bar exam pass rates have suffered already; MBE scores are at their lowest point since 1988. With an enormous drop in admissions standards between 2012 and 2013, as well as in the two subsequent years, bar pass rates for the next three years will be even worse.
The current ABA accreditation standards can theoretically hold dozens of schools accountable through the bar passage standard (Standard 316) and the non-exploitation standard (Standard 501). But the bar passage standard, with its six loopholes, is almost impossible to fail. Meanwhile, the ABA Section of Legal Education is paralyzed without an enforceable line between “capable” and “not capable” — the relevant distinction under the non-exploitation standard.
To the Section’s credit, the organization has responded well to criticism — publicly and privately. At the first meeting after my organization asked the Section’s Council to address trends in law school admissions and retention policies, the Council asked a committee to propose changes to the law school accreditation standards. The Standards Review Committee (SRC) has since made three key recommendations:
1) The SRC submitted a new cumulative bar passage standard to the Council. Under the proposal, at least 75% of all graduates that take a bar exam must pass it within two years. This eliminates the six loopholes.
2) The SRC submitted a new interpretation to the non-exploitation standard to the Council. Under the proposal, there would be a rebuttable presumption that a school that experiences a certain percentage of non-transfer attrition has made exploitative admissions choices.
3) The SRC declined to submit new bar passage outcome transparency measures to the Council. Instead, the SRC advised the Council that it already has the authority to issue new transparency requirements under Standard 509. As I wrote previously, I agree and the Council should publish new information as soon as possible.
The Council will consider these proposals at its Friday meeting in Arizona. If satisfied with the first two proposals, the Council will send them out for a few months of notice and comment. If satisfied with the SRC’s analysis of the Council’s existing authority under Standard 509, the Council can immediately take the necessary steps to authorize new disclosures.
Changes to Standard 316 and Standard 501 will see significant pushback. While greater transparency may help some students make better choices, the other two proposals provide objective tools to stop law schools from exploiting students. The combination poses a significant financial threat to any school choosing money over ethics to survive. Unless the admissions climate drastically and rapidly changes, these new standards will cause exploitative schools to shrink further, merge, or shut down.
One argument against both standards is the limit on opportunity. Schools can take fewer chances on students who do not fit traditional profiles if bar passage rates and degree completion must be more seriously considered during admissions and retention decisions. Before the enrollment crash that began in 2011, however, schools were able to fulfill these lofty ideals without preying upon students with low expectations of completing law school or passing the bar. The “opportunity” offered to students with low predictors of academic success is failing the bar exam up to four times, accumulating six figures of debt, and never obtaining a law job. This is an opportunity for schools to bring in cash from federal student loans, not to increase opportunities for students.
Educational opportunity is too important to let opportunists capture the term. Reclaiming the term from reckless schools concerned primarily with survival is essential for an accreditation process that’s supposed to protect the public, not the law schools. If a school cannot muster a 75% bar passage rate after its graduates have had the opportunity to take the bar exam four times, the school does not deserve accreditation. If a school must rely on failing significant portions of the class to ensure compliant bar passage rates, the school does not deserve accreditation.
When a school cannot figure out how to maintain accreditation under such reasonable rules, it should close. Let the void be filled by the schools that can responsibly grow enrollment or new schools with new economic models.
Have something you think our audience would like to hear about? Interested in writing one or more guest posts? Send an email to the cafe manager at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are interested in publishing posts from practitioners, students, faculty, and industry professionals.