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Attorneys: Law schools should give more data

Stephen N. Zack

Should law schools provide prospective students with more detailed and accurate job placement data and education costs?

The Young Lawyers Division of the American Bar Association and ABA President Stephen Zack think so.

At the ABA Young Lawyers Division Assembly in Atlanta on Feb. 12, delegates voted to adopt a resolution (1YL) asking law schools to provide more information to prospective students and to ensure that it is easily found. Monroe County Bar Association Young Lawyers Section Chair James Paulino was one of the delegates in attendance and voted for the resolution.

“The issue is law schools are publishing information [based on US News & World Report rankings] and there is no standard benchmark for how they report that information,” Paulino said. “Some schools inflate their numbers and those numbers do not accurately reflect employment data and salary information.”

The US News law school rankings are arguably the most well known and controversial of all law school rankings.

ABA’s Zack told the delegates of his concern with the fact that law school graduate job information may not be accurate and graduating students come out of law school with more debt than they expected. Paulino said there was virtually no opposition to the resolution that would help prospective students to be more proactive in their decision.

“It is vitally important to the future of the legal profession that law schools accurately report employment and salary information of their graduates,” delegate Jacqueline Epstein said in a report accompanying resolution 1YL. “It is equally important that prospective law students realize the actual cost of a law school education.” 

Cornell Law School Associate Dean Richard Geiger noted that “the key is for law schools to provide the information in a uniform way so that meaningful comparisons can be made and so that applicants have realistic expectations about the career prospects of law school graduates.”

“They see a need for transparency and I get that but there is a lot of nuance in there,” said Lisa Patterson, University at Buffalo Law School associate dean for Career Services.

“An adjustment may solve the problem and it may not,” Patterson said. “Is a law school education worth it? Who bases that decision on their first job?”

Patterson noted it takes law schools like UB at least nine months to report graduate placement statistics, meaning 2009 graduate placement figures are now being disseminated.

“I have no problem with it [the resolution],” Patterson said. “In the past, it was just a question of marketing — will [prospective students] be confused by the figures?”

Patterson added that “it doesn’t help students interpret the numbers they already have. If a student sees that some graduates are taking non-legal jobs or making $30,000 a year, what does that mean? The myth that we have 10 people working in lawyer jobs and the rest are at Burger King doesn’t ring true here.”

Lillie Wiley-Upshaw, the University at Buffalo’s vice dean for Admissions and Financial Aid, also said the resolution wouldn’t be a problem for UB if it were passed by the ABA House of Delegates in August.

Wiley-Upshaw asked several students if the cost of their education was different from what they were told by the school when they applied and was told the actual costs were not different. However, the total cost of a UB Law School education, which, according to Wiley-Upshaw, is currently over $56,000, is significantly less than private law schools and the state legislature determines tuition cost.

Geiger said Cornell would follow the effort closely as it works its way through the ABA approval process. 

The exact wording of the resolution can be found at www.abanow.org.

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