ABA Employment Stats: Class of 2015

May 2nd, 2016 / By

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.

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Path Cleared for Paid Externships

March 15th, 2016 / By

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 (merritt.52@osu.edu). 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!

 

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ABA Poised To Tighten Accreditation

March 8th, 2016 / By

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.

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Lawyers and Legal Services

February 26th, 2016 / By

There was a time when lawyers delivered most of the nation’s legal services. That time, however, is slipping away. Businesses increasingly obtain law-related work from contract managers, compliance officers, and human resource directors. Individual clients buy homes, draft wills, file uncontested divorces, and conduct other legal business with interactive software. When those individuals visit the courthouse, they may consult a self-help kiosk rather than a lawyer.

The ABA now recognizes that these changes are altering the market for legal services. The House of Delegates recently approved Resolution 105, which establishes model regulatory objectives to guide state regulation of “non-traditional legal service providers.” The objectives are relatively hospitable to non-traditional providers. They include, for example, a focus on “delivery of affordable and accessible legal services” as well as “efficient, competent, and ethical delivery” of those services. Those objectives would support many types of service delivery by non-lawyers.

The mere passage of this resolution, moreover, sends an important signal to the legal profession: Alternative service providers are here to stay. Have law schools gotten this message? What does it mean for us?

(more…)

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Attrition May Jeopardize Accreditation Status Of Dozens Of Law Schools

February 24th, 2016 / By

This column originally appeared on Above the Law

Earlier this month, the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar took an important step towards holding law schools accountable through the accreditation standards. The committee charged with writing the law school accreditation standards voted to send a slate of accountability measures to the Council of the Section of Legal Education — the final authority for law school accreditation.

Last week I wrote about the proposed changes to the minimum bar passage standard and the transparency standard. This week, I discuss the Standards Review Committee’s proposals for refining the non-exploitation standard, Standard 501. (more…)

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The ABA’s New Bar Pass Rate Standards

February 17th, 2016 / By

Originally published on Above the Law.

Does the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar do enough to hold law schools accountable through accreditation? People throughout the legal profession, including people at law schools, think the answer is no.

This past weekend, the Section took an important step forward. The Section’s Standards Review Committee is charged with writing the law school accreditation standards, and it’s voted to send a slate of accountability measures to the Council of the Section of Legal Education — the final authority for law school accreditation.

This week’s column is about Standard 316 (the minimum bar passage standard) and Standard 509 (the transparency standard). Next week, I’ll write about the SRC’s proposals for refining the non-exploitation standard, Standard 501.
(more…)

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Washington D.C. Adopts Uniform Bar Exam

February 9th, 2016 / By

Originally published on Above the Law.

Washington D.C. is the 20th jurisdiction to adopt the Uniform Bar Exam. In an order filed last Thursday, the D.C. Court of Appeals confirmed that it would begin administrating the exam this July.

This will not be the only new UBE jurisdiction in the coming weeks or months. Vermont’s Board of Bar Examiners also announced that “Vermont expects to adopt the Uniform Bar Examination for [the] July 2016 bar exam.” It’s not official but the Vermont Supreme Court asked the Board to propose rule changes to quickly make way for the changes.
(more…)

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Education and Employment

February 6th, 2016 / By

The ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar is once again considering amendments to Standards 304 and 305 in order to permit externship credit for paid work. As I have written before, I support that change. When granting academic credit, the quality of the experience counts–not whether the student was paid for the work.

I have heard about unpaid externships that offered very little educational content. Conversely, I know of terrific externship placements (with both nonprofit and for-profit employers) that required students to choose between academic credit and pay under our current rules. I see no clear line between pay and educational value. Nor does a black letter rule seem appropriate for a learned profession: Surely ethical educators can determine which externships deserve academic credit.

The debate, meanwhile, raises a more troubling issue. If education and paid employment are incompatible, as some comments on the ABA proposal suggest, then we have lost an essential element of our professionalism. It’s possible that we have lost that element, but I think it’s worth reflecting on the issue.

(more…)

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ABA House to Vote on Uniform Bar Exam

February 2nd, 2016 / By

Originally published on Above the Law.

Non-lawyers are encroaching on legal services traditionally offered by lawyers. Technology is changing how lawyers and clients think about value. Law schools have created a mismatch between the number of graduates and entry-level legal jobs. Throughout it all, regulators across the country are actively grappling (and griping) about how best to address these extraordinary circumstances.

While proposed actions or inactions cause sharp disagreements around the country about how to move the profession forward in the 21st century, one common-sense action shouldn’t: adopting the Uniform Bar Exam. Next Monday, the ABA’s House of Delegates will consider a resolution from the ABA’s Law Student Division that calls for all jurisdictions to adopt this portable exam. The House should support this measure, and all jurisdictions should adopt the UBE as quickly as possible.
(more…)

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Arizona Summit Does Still Have Conditional Scholarships

January 22nd, 2016 / By

On December 16th, I wrote a column for Above the Law on the ABA’s annual data dump. In it I highlighted nine schools that “reportedly” eliminated conditional scholarship programs. I used the quoted caveat in my column because I was skeptical that a few of these schools had actually eliminated the program.

One school I contacted was Arizona Summit. The school previously operated a very large conditional scholarship program and had a substantial percentage of students who lost these scholarships after the first year. It would have been a substantial budgetary hit to change the program at Arizona Summit in particular. However, the school’s 509 report indicated that it had. (more…)

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