The American Bar Association has taken its first formal step toward improving the accuracy and transparency of law school employment data.

The ABA’s Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar on June 11 approved changes to its annual law school questionnaire that will require schools to report more detailed employment and salary information. The ABA will publish that information in the ABA/LSAC Official Guide, which is available to the public and potential law students.

The changes will be in place by February, when the schools next report the data to the ABA. The more detailed statistics covering the class 2010 will be available by June 2012.

Law School Transparency, a Tennessee-based nonprofit organization founded last year to advocate for delivering better employment information to prospective students, called the change a “enormous step.”

The vote was the culmination of months of deliberation by the ABA’s Questionnaire Committee.

The ABA will require schools to report the percentage of graduates who are employed and the types of jobs they have taken in much greater detail than they do at present. They must report whether graduates are in jobs that require a law degree; whether they are unemployed; whether their employment status is unknown; and whether they are in jobs funded by the law school or university. Critics have complained that some law schools give their graduates temporary academic jobs so they will count among the employed for purposes of U.S. News & World Report’s rankings.

As in the past, law schools will have to report whether graduates are in law firm jobs, government jobs, judicial clerkships, academia or other industries. In the future, they will also have to report the top three states in which their graduates land jobs and the number working overseas.

The ABA/LSAC Official Guide will include state-specific salary information based on aggregated information from all law schools. The committee shied away from reporting school-specific salary data because that could be “limited and perhaps confusing,” the committee wrote in its proposal.

“A substantial portion of those graduates who do report job information do not report salary information,” the committee said. “We have been informed that this group may be as large as 50%. Furthermore, those graduates who do report salary data tend to be skewed towards the upper end of the salary spectrum….”

Combining the salary data for all graduates of ABA-approved law schools and then breaking those figures down by state will help combat that upward skewing of salaries, the committee concluded.

Despite their praise for the proposal, leaders of Law School Transparency worried that the salary reporting provisions do not go far in enough. “The adopted solution does not provide enough graduate-level detail for those seeking to make a meaningful connection between the post-graduate outcomes for a given school’s graduates and the job characteristics, including salary, required credentials, and location,” they said in a formal statement posted on their Web site. “It’s still too difficult to connect these dots.”

The new reporting requirements should not prove especially taxing on law schools. The National Association for Law Placement already collects the information and compiles it in a detailed report that the organization provides to each law school. NALP doesn’t make the detailed report available to the public, however. NALP has agreed to compile the data now required by the ABA in a standard format, which law schools would provide to the ABA directly.

“The obligation to report this information still falls to the law schools,” said NALP Executive Director Jim Leipold. “But NALP will prepare a custom report for each school in the way the ABA wants it.”

The committee did not provide for auditing of submitted law school employment or salary data, which critics including U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) have raised as a concern. However, the panel said it was looking for ways to ensure the accuracy of information the law schools submit to NALP.

Other panels within the ABA are also examining ways to improve the accuracy of job statistics. Most notably, a committee reviewing all of the ABA’s law school accreditation standards is considering incorporating reporting requirements into the standards.

Contact Karen Sloan at ksloan@alm.com.