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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