The American Bar Association has pumped the brakes on newly adopted changes to how law schools report graduate employment, after critics complained that they obscure the number of recent graduates in jobs paid for by the schools themselves.
The ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar approved the changes at its last meeting in June, but is scheduled to revisit them when it meets Friday in New York in light of the negative response they’ve generated from legal transparency advocates and legal educators, who said they were instituted without the chance for public input.
“I am usually loath to urge reconsideration of settled matters,” wrote council chairman Greg Murphy in an Aug. 3 memo https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/legal_education_and_admissions_to_the_bar/council_reports_and_resolutions/August2017OpenSessionMaterials/2017_august_murphy_memo_on%20employment_reporting_form_action_in_june.authcheckdam.pdf to fellow council members that recommends sending the already adopted changes to the ABA’s Standards Review Committee for further discussion. “However, where there is reason to believe that a deviation from accepted practice has generated some unanticipated consequences, I think it [is] appropriate to pause and reconsider, even if in the end the decision may well be the same.”
Transparency advocates have been blunt in their criticism of the changes the council adopted in June. Jerome Organ, a professor at the University of St. Thomas, Minnesota School of Law who tracks and analyses employment data, wrote in a post http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2017/08/without-any-transparency-in-the-process-the-council-for-the-section-of-legal-education-and-admission.html on TaxProf Blog that the changes “completely eviscerate” the steps the council took just two years ago to increase the transparency around school-funded jobs.
Law students “will be mislead after years of progress,” wrote Law School Transparency executive director Kyle McEntee in a recent blog http://abovethelaw.com/2017/08/aba-takes-giant-step-backwards-on-transparency/?rf=1 post on Above the Law.
About 2 percent of 2016 graduates landed in school-funded jobs, according to ABA data. That percentage has been steadily declining in recent years.
Barry Currier, the ABA’s managing director of accreditation and legal education acknowledged the pushback in an interview Friday, but said others have reached out in support of the changes, which are intended to simplify the graduate employment reporting requirements for schools. “There will be more discussion about whether the council is still happy with the decision it made in June to change the reporting form,” he said. “There has been a lot of activity around this.”
Paul Mahoney, former dean of the University of Virginia School of Law and member of the ABA council, proposed changes to the reporting of graduate jobs in a May 30 memo that called the existing system “excessively complex and confusing” because it requires schools to report jobs in a myriad different categories. The ABA could simplify the number of job categories without losing much useful information, Mahoney argued.
Among the changes he proposed was including school-funded law jobs in the overall law job totals listed for each law school, and including any school-funded job or fellowship that pays at least $40,000 and lasts for at least a year in either the public interest or government categories, rather than listing them as school-funded. Those jobs that pay less than $40,000 would still be listed as school-funded.
The council unanimously adopted Mahoney’s proposal three days later, without the changes going out for public notice and comment or being considered by the ABA’s Standards Review Committee. (Murphy’s memo notes that some members of that committee believe the changes merit “deeper consideration.”)
Opponents argue that the new reporting system makes it impossible for prospective students to figure out whether a school’s graduates are going into jobs funded by the institution itself—which are often one- or two-year positions rather than permanent. Moreover, it disproportionately aids elite law schools with the financial means to fund students in jobs that pay $40,000 or more, since those jobs will now be counted as full employment. That reclassification could boost a law school’s U.S. News & World Report ranking because the rankings assign less weight to graduates in school-funded jobs.
Organ noted that Virginia is among the schools that will benefit from the change. It had the 19th highest percentage of 2016 graduates in school-funded jobs, according to ABA data.
But Mahoney countered Monday that his motivation was not to give Virginia an edge in the U.S. News ranking—it’s currently ranked No. 8—but rather to simplify the reporting process. Rankings among the top 10 law schools have remained fairly static in recent years, even as the ABA has modified the way school-funded jobs are reported and U.S. News changed the way those jobs were weighted, he said.
“If UVA, NYU, Yale and other peer schools simply stopped offering fellowships altogether, the net result would be to decrease public interest employment and increase law firm employment, with a trivial impact on their graduates’ overall employment and therefore a trivial impact on rankings,” Mahoney said.
Organ said Monday that he is pleased that the council is revisiting the matter.
“I am hopeful that the council will take this step and get the Standards Review Committee involved in this process, and allow others to comment on the proposals,” he said.
Contact Karen Sloan at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @KarenSloanNLJ.