By a narrow vote of 10-9, the ABA’s Legal Education Council has approved a proposal to move back the reporting date for new-graduate employment–from nine months after graduation to ten months after earning a degree. Kyle and I have each written about this proposal, and we each submitted comments opposing the change. The decision, I think, tells prospective students and the public two things.
First, the date change loudly signals that the entry-level job market remains very difficult for recent graduates, and that law schools anticipate those challenges continuing for the foreseeable future. This was the rationale for the proposal, that large firms are hiring “far fewer entry level graduates,” that “there is a distinct tendency of judges” to seek experienced clerks, and that other employers are reluctant to hire graduates until they have been admitted to the bar.
The schools saw these forces as ones that were unfairly, and perhaps unevenly, affecting their employment rates; they wanted to make clear that their educational programs were as sound as ever. From a prospective student’s viewpoint, however, the source of job-market changes doesn’t matter. An expensive degree that leads to heavy debt, ten months of unemployment, and the need to purchase still more tutoring for the bar, is not an attractive degree. Students know that the long-term pay-off, in job satisfaction or compensation, may be high for some graduates. But this is an uncertain time in both the general economy and the regulation of law practice; early-career prospects matter to prospective students with choices.
Second, and more disappointing to me, the Council’s vote suggests a concern with the comparative status of law schools, rather than with the very real changes occurring in the profession. The ABA’s Task Force on the Future of Legal Education has just issued a working paper that calls upon law faculty to “reduce the role given to status as a measure of personal and institutional success.” That’s a hard goal to reach without leadership from the top.
Given widespread acknowledgement that the proposal to shift the reporting date stemmed from changes in the US News methodology, we aren’t getting that leadership. Nor are we getting leadership on giving students the information they need, when they need it. This is another black eye for legal education.