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Transparency and accuracy in law school employment statistics is a hot topic right now, but some career services administrators believe an element is missing from the debate: how to ensure that recent graduates update schools on their employment status. Groups like Law School Transparency and the American Bar Association have proposed new reporting systems that would provide more detail about where law grads are employed and how much they earn. But the data are only as good as the responses made to law schools’ employment queries, said Linda Spagnola-Wendling, assistant dean for career services at North Carolina Central University School of Law. She recently circulated a letter among law school administrators calling for discussion about ways to improve the collection of graduate employment data. Most law schools already struggle to fully account for the whereabouts of their recent graduates, and adding to the reporting requirements would create an especially heavy burden for small career services offices, she said. The National Law Journal spoke with Spagnola-Wendling about the challenges career services personnel face when tracking down graduates, and about ways to improve the process. Her answers have been edited for length. Q: Do you think that career services administrators have had much input in the law school transparency discussion thus far? A: The primary concern, from what I’ve seen, is, what questions will be asked. No one has really said, “How do I make students answer those questions.” I’m more than happy to send out whatever questions the ABA, NALP [the National Association for Law Placement] and other bar associations and groups are willing to agree to. What I need from the ABA, employers and state bar associations is for them to assert some influence over their new members. Can they partner with career services offices — either with a carrot or stick — to get these graduates to respond? Almost every state has mandatory CLEs. Can you at least remind them during their first year to get back to us? Can you offer them half a credit of ethics CLE to verify that they have answered us? Q: You expressed some concern in your letter over the changes U.S. News & World Report made this year to its ranking formula. Namely, that it is calculating employment rates based on the entire graduating class, not just on students whose employment status is known. Thus, nonresponders are essentially counted as unemployed. A: I don’t know that trying to gauge students as employed or unemployed without any real information is useful. It’s also a matter of that slippery slope. If I need to account for all of my graduates, can I ask someone, “I know you are best friends with Sue. What’s Sue doing?” She may be working at a law firm in Boston. I may have gotten it secondhand, but that may be all I have to go on. Should I report that? Should I not report that? If it becomes an unknown, U.S. News and World Report counts that as unemployed. It becomes really sticky for those of us in the career services. Q: But aren’t the nonresponders most likely to be unemployed? A: I haven’t necessarily found that to be true. In my letters to graduates, I say that I need to know if you are unemployed because I need to know if I should be sending you open positions and clerkship opportunities. I don’t necessarily find that my unemployed don’t answer. There may be students who are employed but are embarrassed by their employment. They can be in non-legal jobs or they are doing document review. They don’t want to report that. They want to wait until they get something better to report back. Q: How does the graduate job survey process work? A: As soon as they graduate — lots of schools do this — we hand them a survey when they pick up their caps and gowns. That, of course, is limited to those who come to pick up their caps and gowns and are going to walk in graduation. Already, we have lost a few people, and not everybody hands me back their survey. But even if they give me an updated phone number and email, that helps. They seem to constantly change those things, and therein lies a big problem. In about the end of September, when they have their bar results, we can send them a letter of congratulations and say, “Please let us know if you have found a position or if are you are looking, and what can we do to help you?” By the end of November, I start going into survey mode. Mostly, the panic ensues in January. I need to know by Feb. 15 what these people are doing. This is the hard-core time to send surveys out and have our counselors and student workers call their last known number, asking them to fill out surveys. Q: Do you have any leverage with graduates, as far as getting them to respond? A: I have neither a carrot nor a stick. It’s entirely voluntary on the students’ part. We don’t have anything to lord over them, so to speak, aside from their benevolent feelings toward the school, which most of them have. For example, I had a lovely student who got so busy that she answered my email two weeks after the deadline. Hopefully, many of them are just too busy to answer me. But it takes a lot of work to chase people down. How much time should I spend on someone who is employed but hasn’t responded to our survey, versus with students who are anxious because February is hiring month for many of our smaller law firms and public interest jobs? Q: How many students do you typically lose track of in a year? A: We typically have about 20 of them out of 180 who have statistically dropped off the map. They’ve moved. They’ve changed their phone number. They’ve somehow dropped off our radar. Their email is not the same. Twenty out of 180 is a lot.

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