Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Lies, Damn Lies and Law School Employment Statistics; The Sordid Truth Behind the Numbers

I missed it a couple days ago, but the Indiana Law Blog had a blurb on the rankings of law schools. According to U.S. News and World Report. Indiana University at Bloomington (which is now unfortunately called the Mickey Mauer Law School) went from 36th to 23rd in the rankings while my law school alma matter, Indiana University School of Law at Indianapolis fell from 68th to 87th.

Although the rankings are watched by law schools with fascination, the numbers unfortunately have as much credibility as those provided by Indianapolis' Capital Improvement Board.

Part of the rankings of law schools is based on employment numbers of graduates, both the average salary and the level of employment. Law schools have for years gone back and forth competing to see who can phony the employment numbers the most. If you want a good laugh, go to a practicing attorney and tell the attorney what the law school is claiming regarding first year salaries and unemployment figures.

My alma mater? Indiana University School of Law - Indianapolis claims in their 2007 report that over 96% of graduates have a full-time job within 9 months and the average salary for a first year attorney in Indianapolis makes an average of $75,000 a year. Wow. That sounds pretty good.

You have lies, damn lies, and then you have the employment statistics provided by law schools. Unfortunately too many people read those numbers and believe them rather than talk to actual practicing attorneys about what the job market is really like. Those law students borrow tons of money, sometimes in six digits, only to graduate finding jobs that pay $35,000 a year, that is assuming the new lawyer is lucky enough to even find a job. Law school debt is non-dischargeable in bankruptcy so the graduate is going to have that noose of debt around his or her neck for quite some time.

Several years ago, I asked for open records requests from IU-Indy regarding the data used to back up the employment numbers claimed by the school. IU refused to provide the documents - surveys of attorneys - claiming they are confidential. The objection was over broad...all the school had to do was redact the confidential information on the document.

Unfortunately, there is no audit of the data used by law schools to arrive at their employment numbers. The American Bar Association and U.S. News & World Report simply accept the phony numbers as valid. Any law school not playing the game of submitting inflated employment numbers is destined to see their school fall in the rankings.

I never did follow up on my open records request at the time I made it. I am hoping to some day this year clear my calendar enough so I can reissue the request and take it to court when Indiana University fails to comply. I am also interested in filing a class action lawsuit against the law schools for lying to admittees about job prospects in the legal profession. While it can be argued that the "buyer should beware" when it comes to taking the law school plunge, I draw a sharp line when it comes to schools engaging in deceptive and dishonest practices to induce people to buy their product - a law school education.

If you want to read a great article on what the job market is really like for attorneys, read this Wall Street Journal article: Hard Case: Job Market Wanes for U.S. Attorneys (9/24/2007). Remember this article was written during the middle of a strong job market with almost full employment.

I have also written previously on this subject: Mandatory Reading Before Going to Law School (12/3/2008).


Gary R. Welsh said...

The problem with those surveys, Paul, is that the only graduates inclined to respond are the ones who are gainfully employed. The graduates who aren't employed or not employed in a job that pays much are not inclined to respond to the survey. If the survey numbers were accurate, then why do I run in to so many people from law school who are no longer employed as attorneys?

Paul K. Ogden said...

AI, you are exactly right. People who are struggling won't answer the surveys.

I think nearly 40% of my 1987 law school class is not practicing law anymore.

varangianguard said...

Well, it does say "average" salary, though I agree with AI that surveys like this have a skew.

Stll Paul, 40% not practicing? What do you think that number might indicate?

Menkveld said...

If you file a lawsuit against IU and debunk the data reported to US News, the only people you will be hurting are the students and graduates of IU. You will hurt the school's reputation, which also plays heavily into the rankings, potentially causing the school's rank to drop further, leading to even lower out-of-state employment prospects. The harm far outweighs whatever purpose you're trying to accomplish.

Jimmers said...

I disagree entirely with the previous poster. Forging ahead with your lawsuit isn't going to do any tangible damage to any student or graduate of your law school. After all, those people who already have good jobs (or have good jobs lined up) will not be impacted by any change in the school's ranking. And the ones who don't have quality jobs/prospects are screwed anyway. Indeed, it's the incredible number of students and graduates who are ALREADY screwed that has made your lawsuit a necessity in the first place.
And the truth of the matter is that we should be far more concerned with saving the throngs of PROSPECTIVE students who have yet to be ripped off than with burnishing the egos of people whose dice have already been cast.
Think of all the lives that can be saved from professional and financial ruin.