The American Bar Association is in the market for a law school data cop.
The organization’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar has put out a request for proposals for a process by which it can better police the postgraduate employment data that law schools release.
"We want to know, if we wanted to audit a school’s employment data or force schools to give us an audit, how would you do that? What would it look like?" said Barry Currier, the ABA’s interim consultant on legal education. "Maybe we would look at how law schools go about collecting their employment data, but we’re not really sure right now how that would be done."
The request for proposals is the ABA’s latest effort to boost confidence in the data that it requires law schools to release each year. Those efforts came after two schools were found to have inflated their admissions data and amid broad skepticism over the veracity and comprehensiveness of graduate jobs data. Graduates have sued 15 law schools around the country alleging that they inflated employment data, and critics have faulted the ABA for not keeping a close eye on schools’ numbers.
Villanova University School of Law and the University of Illinois College of Law both admitted that for years they had reported inflated Law School Admission Test scores and undergraduate grade-point averages for incoming students.
In 2012, the ABA fined Illinois $250,000, with the money set aside for efforts to improve the speed, accuracy and completeness of law school data. That money will be help pay for any initiative developed through the proposal request.
ABA officials believe that a partnership with the Law School Admission Council—which administers the LSAT and tracks law school applicant data—has thoroughly addressed any potential problems with the reporting of admissions figures and made it impossible for schools to fudge their numbers.
For the first time this year, the council analyzed the LSAT scores and grades of new students at individual law schools to ensure the reported averages are correct. That process is in its final stages and the ABA may soon release those figures, Currier said.
The council’s certification process is in a pilot phase this year and was voluntary for law schools, but nearly all schools opted to participate, he said.
"We’re comfortable that the admissions piece of this is taken care of, so now we’re looking at what can be done about employment data," Currier said.
Unlike admissions data, there is no centralized source of law graduate jobs data—which the schools themselves sometimes struggle to compile. So the ABA is seeking guidance from experts. The organization last year adopted more detailed postgraduate jobs reporting requirements, which has complicated the reporting process for law schools and made oversight tougher.
"Eventually, we would like to get to a place where the data schools are giving us doesn’t cause us to sit back and say, ‘OK, what’s the new game schools are playing?’ " Currier said.
Law schools won’t necessarily be forced to submit to audits each year, he said, but the ABA might develop a process of spot checks or random audits. It’s not yet clear what entity would bear the cost of auditing.
The request for proposals went out in early February, but the ABA hasn’t yet had any takers, Currier said.
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