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What should law schools disclose about graduates?

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What should law schools be required to disclose to potential students — and how should they disclose it — when it comes to publicizing employment and income data of graduates?

That is one of the questions currently occupying the American Bar Association’s Standards Review Committee.

The committee is in the process of revamping Standard 509, which mandates that law schools publish basic consumer protection information as fairly and accurately as possible. A problem exists in that the current standard is too vague and too open to abuse when it comes to publicizing the employment rates and median incomes of recent graduates, said David Yellen, chair of the subcommittee examining the issue. 

“Far too many schools say they are truthful but are actually misleading about the employment placement of their students,” added Yellen, who is also dean of Loyola University’s Chicago Law School.

As an example, most law schools currently list what percentage of their graduates are employed within six months of graduation, he said. “But when a school says ‘employed’, they may mean full- or part-time employment, jobs provided by the law school, or even jobs in no way related to a law degree.”

In some cases, schools even count graduates working for minimum wage in calls centers or the food service industry in their employed percentage, proponents have alleged. In others, they count low-wage jobs provided by the school to boost its numbers. 

Given the current state of the economy, often bleak job prospects, and crushing debt-loads taken on by many newly-minted JDs, reform is badly needed, said Kyle McEntee, a law student at Vanderbilt University and co-director of Law School Transparency, an nonprofit organization that has been active on the Standard 509 issue.

Given the nine-month window that many grads have before their first student loan payments become due, it is crucial that prospective students have accurate information on what their chances are, he believes. “If you can’t stay afloat right away, you are in trouble,” he said.

After their quarterly meeting, held this past weekend in San Francisco, the ABA subcommittee members now have a working proposal of what the new employment standards should be, Yellen said. Under the proposed new standards, law schools would have to break the employment information they provide into a number of sub-categories.

Among these would be the number of graduates employed full time; the number of graduates employed part time; the number working temporary or seasonal jobs; and the number working jobs provided by the law school.

Schools would also have to report the percentage of students working jobs where a JD is required; jobs where a JD is preferred but not mandatory; professional jobs that don’t require a JD, such as business executive; and non-professional jobs that don’t require a JD.

Yellen said his subcommittee is also working on establishing standards for reporting of median income of graduates. Under the current working proposal, employers could be broken down by large legal firms; medium sized legal firms; small legal firms; government; business; and public interest, he said.

McEntee praised the subcommittee for tackling the income issue — a topic he said the ABA subcommittee hasn’t weighed in on before — but would like to see more on in terms of employment reporting.

Geographic location of a given school’s grads should also be publicized, he said.  Many law students have a particular state, region or city in mind after they graduate. For those who have a choice between attending school in California or New York, and want to live and work in New York,”they might not realize that schools in California don’t [necessarily] have the same weight in New York,” he said.

Yellen said that his subcommittee is now drafting formal language for the proposed changes. Upon completion they will be sent on to the ABA’s Section on Legal Education for approval.

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