Caveat Venditor: Throwback To The Days Of Junk Employment Statistics

June 16th, 2016 / By

Originally published on Above the Law

Closeup of a pile of caution tapeWelcome to the second installment of Caveat Venditor, a series that assesses claims made by law schools to separate truth from fiction. This week we look at Brooklyn Law School’s employment rate of 92.2% posted on its “By The Numbers” infographic.

I noticed this claim on Brooklyn’s website after investigating the concern of a prelaw advisor. At the quadrennial Pre-Law Advisor National Council conference, this prelaw advisor asked what to do when a law school does not meet the accreditation requirements by not publishing the required disclosures. Indeed, Brooklyn was publishing an old report nearly six months after the ABA required them to publish its new one. Brooklyn remedied this problem on Monday, citing an “oversight due to transitions in several administrative departments in the last year.” According to a spokesperson from the law school, the ABA did not follow up with the law school to make sure it published the materials on time or at all.

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The Fall Of Systemic Deception At Law Schools

March 29th, 2016 / By

Originally published on Above the Law.

Last week, Anna Alaburda lost her lawsuit against Thomas Jefferson School of Law. From what one juror said of deliberations, the jury only considered deliberate falsification of the data underlying the statistics she consulted before law school. Systemic deception by law schools, blessed by the ABA, was not on trial. While I am disappointed in the result — I think it would have been an important symbol — I want to talk about the changes that we’ve seen over the last six years on the transparency front. We did not win on every count, but we long-ago declared victory. Here’s why. (more…)

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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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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.

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2012 Employment Data

March 15th, 2013 / By

Consumer advocates have criticized law schools, not only for posting misleading employment data, but for disclosing those figures too slowly. The ABA acted to remedy both of those problems. Its revised Standard 509 and accompanying worksheet require schools to publish specific employment outcomes “on the school’s website each year by March 31” for “persons who graduated with a J.D. degree between September 1 two calendar years prior and August 31 one calendar year prior.” That’s legalese for: nine-month employment outcomes for the Class of 2012 must appear on websites by the end of this month.

There’s no reason for schools to neglect that deadline. They already have the 2012 outcomes, which are tabulated as of February 15. They’ve had another month to compile the figures, which are due in the NALP office by next Monday, March 18. Most important, prospective students need that information. As applicants weigh the offers extended to them, and decide whether to attend law school, they should know the job outcomes for the students who graduated ten months ago–not just for the ones who graduated twenty-two months ago.

I have great sympathy for Career Services staff, who feel that they operate under a blizzard of deadlines. First NALP wants this, then US News wants that, and now the ABA wants a somewhat different set of numbers by yet another deadline. Permeating all of that, deans and faculty want them to !!get jobs for graduates by February 15!! Sometimes the dates and reports seem more important than the jobs and graduates themselves.

But this ABA deadline is the most essential one: publishing updated information to prospective students is crucial. That shouldn’t be simply the task of Career Services staff; it should be the first website priority for the school as a whole.

Every accredited law school will update its website multiple times between now and March 31. With admitted students weighing offers, there will be plenty of upbeat news items about alumni accomplishments, faculty awards, and other achievements. That’s as it should be. But let’s make sure that the 2012 employment data appear as well. They’re the first website priority.

I welcome notifications of schools that have already complied with the ABA rule and posted their 2012 job data.

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Transparency Today

March 4th, 2013 / By

ABA Standard 509 governs the consumer information that accredited law schools provide to prospective students. The ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar approved changes to that standard in June 2012, and the revised standard took effect on August 6.

The revised standard was widely publicized; indeed, it followed more than a year of lively discussion about misleading practices in the way some schools reported scholarship retention and employment rates. In response to those concerns, the revised standard includes a requirement that schools publish simple tables disclosing specified information about scholarships and jobs. The ABA provides the tables through downloadable worksheets; law schools have the applicable data readily at hand.

Given the widespread attention to Standard 509, the clear obligation of law schools to provide accurate information to potential students, and the specific worksheets offered by the ABA, quick compliance with Standard 509 should have been a breeze. By December 2012, surely every accredited law school in the country would have published the two mandatory tables.

Sadly, no. In late December and early January, two members of Law School Transparency (LST) visited the website of every ABA-accredited school, searching for the tables mandated by Standard 509. Almost two-thirds of law schools still had not posted one or both of the tables mandated by Standard 509. These schools were actively–even passionately–recruiting students for the fall of 2013. Yet they had allowed an entire semester to pass without posting the basic information about scholarship retention and employment rates that these prospective students deserve to know.

Kyle McEntee and Derek Tokaz, the Executive Director and Research Director respectively of LST, detail these disappointing results in a new paper. At the same time, they have published their findings on LST’s updated Transparency Index.

Before publishing, LST sent each law school the results of their website study. More than 100 law schools contacted LST and, over the next three weeks, Kyle and Derek counseled them on how to improve their compliance with Standard 509. As a result of these efforts, the percentage of schools failing to publish one or both of the mandatory charts has fallen from two-thirds to one-third. The online index reveals each school’s compliance status during the initial LST search (click “Winter 2013 Version”) and the school’s current status (click “Live Index”).

It’s hard to find any cheer in these numbers–other than to applaud LST for their tireless and unpaid work. Schools should have complied with the basics of Standard 509 by October 2012 at the latest. Two months is more than enough time to put readily available information into a spreadsheet and post the information on the web. How many times did non-compliant law schools update their websites between August and January? How much upbeat information did they add to attract applicants? What possibly excuses the failure to post information mandated for the benefit of those applicants? Facts about scholarship retention and employment matter to prospective students; that’s why the ABA requires their disclosure.

Missing 509 charts is just the beginning of the transparency problems that LST identified in its latest sweep of law school websites. The online index reveals still more sobering information. This report raises a serious question for law schools: If we want to provide “complete, accurate and nonmisleading” information to prospective students, and I think that most of us do, then what institutional mechanisms can we adopt to achieve that goal? Our current methods are not working well.

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