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ABA Changes Graduate Data Collection Timeline
The National Law Journal
The nine-months-after graduation jobs statistic is no more.
The American Bar Association’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar on Friday narrowly approved moving the timeline for collecting new graduation employment figures back one month.
Henceforth, the law schools will report how many of their graduates have landed jobs requiring a legal education 10 months following graduation.
The change—which was made at the request of law deans in California and New York who said that delayed bar exam results and admissions in their states put them at a disadvantage in jobs reporting—was far from unanimous.
The Council was initially split nine to nine on the proposal, but incoming Council President Solomon Oliver, Jr., the Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, cast the deciding vote in favor.
“The interest here is in getting accurate information about graduate employment, “ said Council member Rebecca Berch, Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court. “Legal education has taken a lot of hits because of people not being reported as employed. If going out a month helps to better capture that information, I think we should do it.”
But some council members were not convinced that the move was really motivated by the best interests of prospective law students.
Boston University School of Law dean Maureen O’ Rourke asked why the change was needed now, as it’s unlikely that states such as California and New York are actually reporting exam results and admitting students later than they have in the past. But what has changed in the last year is U.S. News and World Report’s method of calculating employment data in its annual rankings. That change took a heavy toll on many New York and California schools, she said.
“It would be a little disingenuous not to acknowledge the U.S. News motivations here,” O’Rourke said. “California and New York schools took a beating in U.S. News this year because of their placement data.”
Councilmember Len Strickman, who chairs the committee that proposed moving the collection timeline from nine months to ten, said that one thing that has changed is the percentage of legal employers who will only consider hiring graduates who have either passed the bar or are admitted.
Thus, gathering employment data on March 15 as opposed to the current February 15 will both offer a fuller picture of the jobs, and level the playing field among schools in jurisdictions with different exam results reporting timelines. Prospective students will have a better head-to-head comparison between schools.
But O’Rourke said that there was no data to back up the claim that more employers are increasingly waiting to hire graduates who have passed the bar. The committee did consider an analysis of employment data by University of St. Thomas law professor Jerome Organ, who examined how the nine-months-after-graduation statistic at law schools in California and New York compared to schools outside of those states. His data suggested that schools in those states did tend to have weaker employment number, those so did several states that do not follow a slower timeline for bar exam results.
“This slightly more detailed analysis may give some credence to the concerns expressed by law schools in New York and California, but at best appears to show some correlation, rather and clearly demonstrating a causal relationship,” Organ wrote in a memo to the committee.
The idea of moving the timeline up a month has been controversial since it was proposed. The Council received six written comments from interested parties: three from law school administrators who favor the change, two in opposition, and Organ’s analysis.
Ohio State University law professor Deborah Merritt identified five potential problems with the change, including that moving the data would make it impossible to conduct a head-to-head comparison with data from previous years, and that the change could “further diminish public trust in law schools and the ABA.”
As an alternative, Merritt proposed that schools collect data both six months after graduation—when their loans come due—and after 18 months. Having two dates for data collection would give prospective law students the best possible information upon which to make a decision, she wrote.
Moreover, moving the collection date back one month would make it difficult to compile and release the statistics before would-be law students must put down deposits to secure their place in a school, Merritt wrote.
Strickman dismissed many of her arguments saying she misunderstood or ignored some of the evidence provided, but he acknowledged that a later reporting date would delay getting information to prospective students somewhat. Some of the current changes in when and how hiring decisions are made simply can’t be quantified by data because so many variables are involved, Strickman said.
Kyle McEntee, the executive director of Law School Transparency, said he was disappointed in the decision. He had submitted an earlier memo to the Council saying that moving the collection date back not only disadvantages prospective students but raises questions about the where the council’s priorities lie.
“The Council is confused about its duties,” he said following the vote. “It’s not to protect the law schools or to ensure that legal education looks better.”
The new collection timeline will not go into effect for the most recent graduating class, but will be put in place for the Class of 2014. NALP executive director Jim Leipold said his organization will adjust its data collection timeline to be in line with the ABA’s new schedule.