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Are bar examiners who take their sweet time releasing test results hurting law schools’ employment statistics?

Some law school deans think so, and now the American Bar Association is considering whether to delay collecting jobs data for a month to allow straggling states to license new graduates before schools must pony up their numbers.

The ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar on Friday will take up a proposal to move the data collection timeline from nine months after graduation to 10 months. The council’s data policy and collection committee, which put forth the proposal, said it is an effort to level the playing field between states that release bar exam results and admit new lawyers relatively quickly, and states that take more time.

Certain jobs are open only to members of the bar, the committee argued, and fewer legal employers are hiring students while still in school. "This works as a particular hardship on law schools located in late bar-results states, and law schools whose students seek in substantial numbers employment in those states," the committee wrote.

The nine-months-after-graduation employment statistic has been around for nearly two decades, but the timing has become more of an issue as some states—particularly New York and California—are taking longer and longer to release exam results, NALP executive director Jim Leipold said.

New York’s bar exam results for the July 2012 administration were released on November 1 and California’s on November 16. (More than 17 percent of graduates from ABA-accredited law schools take the bar exam in those two states, according to the committee.) Currently, law schools must report employment numbers as of February 15.

"Deans have advocated for reporting employment a year after graduation, but at the time the reasoning was that since student loans are due six month after graduation, nine months was a reasonable timeframe," Leipold said. Until 1996, NALP and the ABA collected employment data six months after graduation. "But the problem with New York and California is very real."

Additionally, an extra month would provide more clarity in how schools report the status of February bar exam takers, he said. Now, there is confusion as to whether February test takers should be listed as seeking employment.

NALP, which also collects and compiles new graduate employment information, will not oppose any decision by the ABA to push data collection back a month, and will modify its own schedule accordingly, Leipold said.

Not everyone is convinced that lengthening the time before employment statistics are due would be a good change. Writing on the Law School Café blog, Law School Transparency Executive Director Kyle McEntee called the proposal "misguided." The committee has failed to produce reliable data showing that schools in California or New York are actually at a disadvantage because of the timing of bar results, McEntee argued. Moreover, such as move would roll back the progress the ABA has made in getting jobs data to prospective law students much sooner than in the past.

"If the Section of Legal Education adopts the ten-month proposal, it pushes data publication to the end of April—after many deposit deadlines and on the eve of others," McEntee wrote. "While applicants should not overrate the importance of year-to-year differences, they should have the opportunity to evaluate the changes."

By contrast, Leipold said that moving the data collection date back to March 15 would be a relatively minor change, although it would interrupt historical comparisons of year-over-year job placement for one year.

"I don’t think this is a game of hide-the-ball," he said. "Whether it happens or not, it won’t be dramatic."

Should the council sign off, the new timeline could go into effect for this year’s graduating class, said Barry Currier, the ABA’s managing director of accreditation and legal education.

Before the council can adopt a 10-month reporting schedule, however, it must first approve a new version of Standard 509, which lays out the rules for employment data reporting. The new version would eliminate the specific timeline for reporting those figures. If the council approves the new standard, it would then go before the ABA’s House of Delegates, which will meet in August. Only after the new Standard 509 is adopted could the council change its schedule.

"A delay of 24 days in the posting of survey data is, we believe, a cost that is worth the benefit of a more level playing field," the committee wrote.

Contact Karen Sloan at ksloan@alm.com. For more of The National Law Journal’s law school coverage, visit: http://www.facebook.com/NLJLawSchools.

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