U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer has re-entered the debate over law school consumer data following a four-month hiatus.
The California Democrat had taken a back seat to U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who has repeatedly pushed the American Bar Association in recent months to account for questions over whether law schools are providing accurate information about the number of graduates who land legal jobs.
In an Oct. 6 letter to ABA President William Robinson III, Boxer chided the organization for recent changes to its annual law school questionnaire — which have been criticized by advocates for reform — and expressed concern over the lack of independent oversight of the jobs statistics reported by law schools.
Boxer took specific issue with the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar’s decision not collect data this year regarding the percentage of new graduates in jobs that require a J.D. and the percentage in part-time jobs.
“In my two previous letters to your predecessor, I indicated my strong belief that the ABA should ensure that post-graduation employment data provided to prospective law students is truthful and transparent,” Boxer wrote. “His responses appeared to indicate a similar interest, but unfortunately it is difficult to square those previous statements with the section’s recent decision.”
Boxer was the first senator to address the ABA on law school jobs data — she sent letters to the organization in March and May urging it to increase the transparency of those statistics.
The organizers of Law School Transparency, a Tennessee nonprofit founded in 2009 with a goal of improving the consumer information available to would-be law students, said Boxer’s new letter indicated that the pressure on the ABA is not going to let up.
“While we believe that Senator Boxer’s letter will eventually force the schools to provide the Class of 2010 legal employment rates at each law school, it should not take congressional hand-holding to get the section to require such basic consumer information,” co-founders Kyle McEntee and Patrick Lynch said in a formal statement.
An ABA spokesman said that the organization had received the letter and that its leaders were not yet prepared to comment.
In her letter, Boxer cited a Sept. 28 report by The National Law Journal concerning research by Washington University in St. Louis School of Law professor Brian Tamanaha. He concluded that at least 30 law schools sent 50% or fewer of their 2009 graduates into jobs that required a law degree. However, most law schools reported that nearly all their graduates were employed shortly following graduation. The discrepancy was “very troubling,” Boxer wrote.
“In a year when a number of lawsuits alleging consumer protection law violations have been filed against ABA law schools, when major newspapers have devoted thousands of words to problems with law school reporting practices, and when two United States Senators have encouraged significant changes to your policies, it is surprising that the ABA is resorting to half measures instead of tackling a major problem head on,” Boxer wrote.
Boxer expressed concern over the lack of independent auditing of the statistics law schools provide to the ABA. She cited a scandal at the University of Illinois College of Law, which during the past three years inflated the median grade point averages and LSAT scores of its incoming classes.
“I appreciate the ABA’s willingness to make some changes to its reporting requirements, but I believe it is in the best interest of law students everywhere for the ABA to address these remaining issues as soon as possible,” she wrote.
Contact Karen Sloan at firstname.lastname@example.org.