Those queries will not appear on the questionnaire that law schools will be required to submit next month for the class of 2010. The ABA’s questionnaire committee finalized that list of questions on Sept. 23, prompting criticism from some reformers that the ABA is protecting law schools from reporting what would surely be grim statistics.
“By all accounts, 2010 is the worst of a series of very bad years so far,” said Brian Tamanaha, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis School of Law. “And now, owing to this decision, law schools do not have to say precisely how bad it was. NALP [the National Association for Law Placement] will still ask the question, but it publishes only aggregate data, not data on individual schools.”
Tamanaha analyzed data compiled by the advocacy group Law School Transparency and concluded that for the class of 2009, 30 ABA-accredited law schools had 50% or fewer of their graduates in jobs that required a law degree after nine months.
The questionnaire committee was not acting to protect law schools by omitting the so-called “J.D. preferred” question, insisted chairman Art Gaudio, dean of Western New England College School of Law. It dropped that question this year because members were uncomfortable with the way different types of jobs are defined, he said. In the past, schools reported the percentage of recent graduates in jobs that require bar passage, jobs for which a J.D. was preferred and jobs that did not require a J.D.
“We could not come to a conclusion about what definitions there should be,” Gaudio said. “We just couldn’t get that done in time. If we were trying to hide anything, we wouldn’t be putting [that question] on the questionnaire for the next cycle.”
The committee plans to develop an improved definition for the J.D.-required question and to include it on the survey for the class of 2011, Gaudio said. Additionally, the committee plans to accelerate the collection of job placement data, to give prospective law students more up-to-date information. At present, law schools report job data to the ABA in October — more than a year after the students in question have graduated — and the figures are not made public for several more months. The questionnaire committee intends to move the reporting process up to February, when NALP collects data, and make the statistics available to the public four or five months later.
“In essence, it would cut a year out of the process,” Gaudio said.
But advocates for more detailed job data said that eliminating the J.D.-required question, even for a year, would hurt would-be law students and others.
The ABA Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar “has done a huge disservice to prospective law students, law schools and the legal profession,” said Law School Transparency Executive Director Kyle McEntee. “The legal employment rate is a basic yet crucial part of informing prospective law students. The failure to require law schools to disclose this rate legitimizes questions about whether the section is a body captured by special interests.”
Law school reform advocates welcomed some of the changes made to the questionnaire, however. Most notably, they hailed the addition of a question regarding whether graduates are in jobs paid for by their law school — a tactic some schools have used in the past to improve their job placement figures.
Karen Sloan can be contacted at email@example.com.