Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Colorado Law Professor Rips Apart Methodology Used by Law Schools to Calculate Employment Data

Indiana Unversity Law School at Indianapolis
I linked to this April 25, 2011 New Republic piece in a previous post, but for the first time had a chance to sit down and read it more closely.   The article, written by Paul Campos, professor of law at the University of Colorado, should be MUST READING for anyone considering going to law school and whose decision might have been influenced by the fictional employment figures published by law schools:
This month, thousands of ambitious young people are asking themselves the same question: Does it make sense to invest $100,000 to $250,000, and the next three years of my life, to become officially qualified to work as a lawyer? For most people considering law school, this question is hardly an easy one. Law schools, however, make it much harder than it needs to be by publishing misleading data about their employment statistics. Many law schools all but explicitly promise that, within a few months of graduation, practically all their graduates will obtain jobs as lawyers, by trumpeting employment figures of 95 percent, 97 percent, and even 99.8 percent. The truth is that less than half will.

There are two main sources of information on post-law-school employment rates. One is U.S. News and World Report (USNWR), which publishes statistics for individual schools as part of its annual law-school rankings. These rankings, of course, are much reviled but even more greatly feared by deans and admissions officers. (Prospective law students pay very careful attention to the rankings, which means law schools must as well.) Until little more than a month ago, almost all 198 ABA-accredited law schools were reporting nine-month employment rates of more than 90 percent, and it was a rare top 100 school that had a rate of less than 95 percent. But last month, in the wake of criticisms that these figures were literally incredible, USNWR revised its employment statistics in an effort to combat some of the legerdemain law schools engaged in, such as excluding from their calculations graduates who described themselves as unemployed but not seeking work. The new USNWR percentages are therefore somewhat less inaccurate: Schools that, until a few weeks ago, were claiming one in 500 graduates were unemployed now claim one in 30 are, while those who were advertising 95 percent employment rates are saying one in six graduates don’t have jobs, and so on down the hierarchical line.

The other source is the National Association for Law Placement (NALP)—the group to which the ABA delegates the compiling of employment statistics that ABA-accredited law schools are required to report. According to the NALP, 88.2 percent of all law school graduates are “employed” within nine months of graduation. If we exclude people employed in non-legal jobs, and people doing part-time work, the NALP number drops to 62.9 percent.

There are a few problems, however, with even this lower number. The first is that it is only reported for law schools as a whole. NALP does not provide this number for individual schools, while USNWR does not report it at all. This means that the only school-specific information currently available to students is extremely misleading.

But the bigger problem is that the 62.9 percent figure is still too high. While it excludes non-legal jobs and part-time work, it does not exclude people in temporary positions. So it seems worth asking: How many of the graduates who report doing full-time legal work have permanent jobs—in the employment law sense of permanent—as opposed to doing temp work, such as being paid $20 an hour to proofread financial documents in a warehouse, or $12 an hour to do slightly glorified secretarial tasks?


When we take temporary employment into account, it appears that approximately 45 percent of 2010 graduates of this particular top-50 law school had real legal jobs nine months after graduation. And the overall number is likely lower, since it seems probable that the temporary employment figures for the graduates of almost any top 50 school would be better than the average outcome for the graduates of the 198 ABA-accredited law schools as a whole.
Colorado Law Professor Paul Campos
Even this grim figure, however, may be unduly optimistic. All these statistics are based on self-reporting, and neither law schools nor NALP audit the data they publish. In the course of my research, I audited a representative sample of individual graduate responses and found several instances of people describing themselves as employed permanently or full-time, when in fact they had temporary or part-time jobs (I found no instances of inaccuracies running in the other direction). Perhaps some graduates exaggerate their employment status out of embarrassment, or for strategic reasons, but, whatever their reasons might be, this apparently not uncommon practice suggests that the true employment rate should be lowered even further.
Yet even this does not exhaust the dire news for those about to enter the legal profession. Some schools have adopted the practice of placing their graduates in temporary positions, which, whatever the rationale, has the benefit of helping to inflate their employment numbers. For example, this winter the top 50 school referenced above hired at least two unemployed graduates for short-term internships. Last year, Georgetown’s law school paid three unemployed graduates $20 an hour to spend six weeks working in, of all places, its admissions office.
In the omitted portion, the author goes into more detail regarding his analysis of the real employment picture for lawyers and comments on the fact that even those who "win" the legal employment lottery employment often find the hours long and the work unrewarding.  I would add that the pay is often low and benefits you get with most private sector jobs are non-existent at most mid to small size law firms.  To see the entire article, click here.

For those interested, I am setting up a meeting to discuss these and related issues.  I talked about it here on my blog.  Information about the meeting is reprinted below:


TO: Indiana Attorneys, Law School Graduates and Law School Students

RE: Informal Meeting To Discuss Issues Related to the Legal Profession in Indiana

DATE and TIME: Tuesday, August 16, 2011, 7 p.m.

LOCATION: Indianapolis TBA (Will announce the exact place for the meeting about a week out.)

CONTACT: Paul K. Ogden, 317-297-9720,

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