JoAnne Epps, dean of the Temple University James E. Beasley School of Law, said not all of the online criticism is warranted. "I understand that people are frustrated," she said. "But I don't think it's fair at this stage of our history to blame law schools for the fact that a graduate's job prospects in 2009 are different than they may have been when that graduate was contemplating law school four or five years ago."
Northeastern University School of Law Dean Emily Spieler said prospective students should be aware of the potential downsides of law school, but should not take the Internet-based law school bashing at face value.
"The Internet is an egalitarian and a flat form of communication," she said. "That has its values and its negatives. It concerns me because I think it gives a lot of voice to deeply unhappy people."
Those who are satisfied with their decision to attend law school are less likely to share their experiences online, and anti-law school Web sites offer a skewed view, she said. Additionally, those sites tend to focus squarely on the availability of large law firm jobs and don't address the broad array of public interest and nonlegal jobs open to law school graduates, she said.
Still, William Henderson, a professor at Indiana University Maurer School of Law -- Bloomington, said that administrators should pay attention to the anger and frustration students and graduates are venting online. Law deans understand the added pressure that high tuition and the difficult job market is putting on students, but the legal education industry has yet to adequately address those problems, he said.
Accurate information for prospective students is the key to ensuring that law students have realistic expectations about the opportunities their law degrees will afford, said Henderson and other legal academics.
"The realities haven't trickled down to the students," Henderson said. "They all believe they are going to be in the top 10 percent of their class, and they have this vision of the profession that doesn't exist. And law schools don't try to dispel those myths to potential applicants."
For example, law schools often highlight the median or average starting salary of graduates -- which is misleading, because it tends to be skewed by a small percentage of high earners that obscures the larger group earning $60,000 or less, said Daniel Thies, a Harvard Law School 3L and the law student division liaison to the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. Additionally, the employment statistics that law schools provide often are incomplete because graduates without jobs are less likely to report back to their schools, he said.
Law schools want to put the best possible face on their graduate employment and salary statistics, since they compete for applicants with the highest LSAT scores in order to move up in the U.S. News & World Report rankings, Henderson said. An agency such as the ABA should police the employment, salary and debt information provided to would-be law students, he said.
"The only solution is a major regulatory effort where we all come out with our honest numbers," Henderson said. "We can no longer sweep bad information under the rug. We need to change the system."
Erik Gerding, an associate professor at the University of New Mexico School of Law, has been posting on The Conglomerate blog about recent law school expansion and its implications for the ability of new graduates to find jobs. He agreed with Henderson that the ABA should step up and audit the information released by law schools to ensure accuracy.
"It's important for that information to be policed so it can't be gamed," Gerding said.
Prospective law students already have access to myriad information and statistics from the ABA, LSAC and NALP, although virtually all that information is self-reported by law schools.
NALP publishes an annual report on the employment and salaries of new graduates, based on information submitted by law schools. "We work with the schools to make it as accurate as possible, but there are always accusations circulating that schools are reporting inaccurate numbers," said NALP research director Judith Collins.
The ABA compiles and publishes a number of statistics from accredited law schools each year on the LSAC Web site, including tuition, the percentage of students employed after nine months, the type of jobs they have and bar passage rates. However, there is a significant lag time in the publication of those numbers, said Hulett "Bucky" Askew, the consultant on legal education of the ABA Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. The 2009 data are based upon the employment outcomes of 2007 graduating class. Askew said the ABA lacks the capacity to independently audit all the numbers submitted annually by law schools, as Henderson, Gerding and others have called upon it to do.