The American Bar Association is changing the way it collects graduate employment information from law schools.

The council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar on Dec. 3 approved a new annual questionnaire intended to gather more detailed information about where recent law grads find work. The change came as law students, graduates and three U.S. senators heaped criticism on the ABA and law schools for not providing prospective law students with an accurate picture of graduate employment and salary levels.

“The section is fully committed to clarity and accuracy of law school placement data,” said John O’Brien, dean of New England School of Law and chairman of the section. “As a result of these changes, future law students will be better informed about their prospects than ever before.”

The updated questionnaire contains several new elements:

• Law schools will report their graduate employment and salary data directly to the ABA, rather than through the National Association of Law Placement.

• Graduate employment information will be made available to the public faster. Instead of being published two years after a particular class graduates, the data will be collected earlier in the year and will be made public approximately one year after graduation.

• Law schools will have to report whether graduates are in jobs funded by the schools, themselves. They will have to stipulate whether graduates are in jobs requiring bar passage; positions for which J.D.s are an advantage; professional positions that do not require a J.D.; non-professional positions; and whether jobs are long-term or short-term.

• Employment and salary information must be reported for each individual graduate rather than in the aggregate, giving the ABA the ability to audit the figures.

The new questionnaire does not include all the changes that transparency advocates have been pushing for. Law School Transparency — a nonprofit organization that seeks to improve consumer data for law students — has called upon the ABA to publish school-specific salary data. That would allow prospective law students to see how much graduates of each school earn.

As with the old questionnaire, job and salary data will not be reported together and school-specific salary data will not be released publicly. Instead, each school will report the three states in which the largest number of its graduates finds jobs.

Prospective students won’t be able to see the average salary for graduates who take government jobs. The ABA plans to make salary information available based on job type and state, said ABA consultant for legal education Hulett “Bucky” Askew, but those numbers will be not be broken down by law school.

School-specific salary data may yet be made available to the public under a different proposal being considered by the ABA’s Standards Review Committee, which is evaluating all of the ABA’s law school accreditation standards, Askew said.

The new questionnaire is an improvement, said Law School Transparency co-founder Kyle McEntee. But the ABA made a mistake by temporarily eliminating some key questions from the 2011 survey, which went out to law schools this fall, he said. That questionnaire did not ask schools to report the number of graduates in the class of 2010 in full- and part-time jobs or in jobs that require a J.D., meaning that less information will be available about the class of 2010 than for previous classes.

Members of the questionnaire committee said they needed more time to refine the definitions of those job categories. The updated definitions were incorporated into the new questionnaire.

“There are still questions about [the changes] took so long and why it still falls short of providing the best consumer information,” McEntee said.

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