Old Ways, New Ways

April 14th, 2015 / By

For the last two weeks, Michael Simkovic and I have been discussing the manner in which law schools used to publish employment and salary information. The discussion started here and continued on both that blog and this one. The debate, unfortunately, seems to have confused some readers because of its historical nature. Let’s clear up that confusion: We were discussing practices that, for the most part, ended four or five years ago.

Responding to both external criticism and internal reflection, today’s law schools publish a wealth of data about their employment outcomes; most of that information is both user-friendly and accurate. Here’s a brief tour of what data are available today and what the future might still hold.

ABA Reports

For starters, all schools now post a standard ABA form that tabulates jobs in a variety of categories. The ABA also provides this information on a website that includes a summary sheet for each school and a spreadsheet compiling data from all of the ABA-accredited schools. Data are available for classes going back to 2010; the 2014 data will appear shortly (and are already available on many school sites).

Salary Specifics

The ABA form does not include salary data, and the organization warns schools to “take special care” when reporting salaries because “salary data can so easily be misleading.” Schools seem to take one of two approaches when discussing salary data today.

Some provide almost no information, noting that salaries vary widely. Others post their “NALP Report” or tables drawn directly from that report. What is this report? It’s a collection of data that law schools have been gathering for about forty years, but not disclosing publicly until the last five. The NALP Report for each school summarizes the salary data that the school has gathered from graduates and other sources. You can find examples by googling “NALP Report” along with the name of a law school. NALP reports are available later in the year than ABA ones; you won’t find any 2014 NALP Reports until early summer.

NALP’s data gathering process is far from perfect, as both Professor Simkovic and I have discussed. The report for each school, however, has the virtue of both providing some salary information and displaying the limits of that information. The reports, for example, detail how many salaries were gathered in each employment category. If a law school reports salaries for 19/20 graduates working for large firms, but just 5/30 grads working in very small firms, a reader can make note of that fact. Readers also get a more complete picture of how salaries differ between the public and private sector, as well as within subsets of those groups.

Before 2010, no law school shared its NALP Report publicly. Instead, many schools chose a few summary statistics to disclose. A common approach was to publish the median salary for a particular law school class, without further information about the process of obtaining salary information, the percentage of salaries gathered, or the mix of jobs contributing to the median. If more specific information made salaries look better, schools could (and did) provide that information. A school that placed a lot of graduates in judicial clerkships, government jobs, or public interest positions, for example, often would report separate medians for those categories–along with the higher median for the private sector. Schools had a lot of discretion to choose the most pleasing summary statistic, because no one reported more detailed data.

Given the brevity of reported salary data, together with the potential for these summary figures to mislead, the nonprofit organization Law School Transparency (LST) began urging schools to publish their “full” NALP Reports. “Full” did not mean the entire report, which can be quite lengthy and repetitive. Instead, LST defined the portions of the report that prospective students and others would find helpful. Schools seem to agree with LST’s definition, publishing those portions of the report when they choose to disclose the information.

Today, according to LST’s tracking efforts, at least half of law schools publish their NALP Reports. There may be even more schools that do so; although LST invites ongoing communication with law schools, the schools don’t always choose to update their status for the LST site.

Plus More

The ABA’s standardized employment form, together with greater availability of NALP Reports, has greatly changed the information available to potential law students and other interested parties. But the information doesn’t stop with these somewhat dry forms. Many law schools have built upon these reports to convey other useful information about their graduates’ careers. Although I have not made an exhaustive review, the contemporary information I’ve seen seems to comply with our obligation to provide information that is “complete, accurate and not misleading to a reasonable law school student or applicant.”

In addition to these efforts by individual schools, the ABA has created two websites with consumer information about law schools: the employment site noted above and a second site with other data regularly reported to the ABA. NALP has also increased the amount of data it releases publicly without charge. LST, finally, has become a key source for prospective students who want to sort and compare data drawn from all of these sources. LST has also launched a new series of podcasts that complement the data with a more detailed look at the wide range of lawyers’ work.

Looking Forward

There’s still more, of course, that organizations could do to gather and disseminate data about legal careers. I like Professor Simkovic’s suggestion that the Census Bureau expand the Current Population Survey and American Community Survey to include more detailed information about graduate education. These surveys were developed when graduate education was relatively uncommon; now that post-baccalaureate degrees are more common, it seems critical to have more rigorous data about those degrees.

I also hope that some scholars will want to gather data from bar records and other online sources, as I have done. This method has limits, but so do larger initiatives like After the JD. Because of their scale and expense, those large projects are difficult to maintain–and without regular maintenance, much of their utility falls.

Even with projects like these, however, law schools undoubtedly will continue to collect and publish data about their own employment outcomes. Our institutions compete for students, US News rank, and other types of recognition. Competition begets marketing, and marketing can lead to overstatements. The burden will remain on all of us to maintain professional standards of “complete, accurate and not misleading” information, even as we talk with pride about our schools. Our graduates face similar obligations when they compete for clients. Although all of us chafe occasionally at duties, they are also the mark of our status as professionals.


About Law School Cafe

Cafe Manager & Co-Moderator
Deborah J. Merritt

Cafe Designer & Co-Moderator
Kyle McEntee

ABA Journal Blawg 100 HonoreeLaw School Cafe is a resource for anyone interested in changes in legal education and the legal profession.

Around the Cafe


Enter your email address to receive notifications of new posts by email.


Recent Comments

Recent Posts

Monthly Archives


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 merritt52@gmail.com. We are interested in publishing posts from practitioners, students, faculty, and industry professionals.

Past and Present Guests