The rest of the legal world, and the legions of recent law grads that are unemployed and underemployed, already know this: law schools lie.
Not directly, mind you. They just fudge the numbers. Now, finally, U.S. News, the leading source for the all important law school rankings, will “encourage” law schools to come clean on the real numbers.
It appears that the magazine is going to take a closer look at law schools’ real success at landing jobs for graduates in ranking schools. On Thursday, Robert Morse, director of data research for U.S. News, noted in this blog post that the magazine will alter how it calculates employment rates in its rankings to more accurately capture the “current state of legal employment.”
And it’s about time they did.
See how the increase in schools not reporting starts to spike in 2010? I’d speculate that’s because it’s getting harder for schools to prove to applicants that they can count on a job right after graduation, this all while increasing tuition. There are just too many disgruntled lawyers out there. (I recently participated in mock interviews at my alma mater, and every single student noted dramatically higher tuition over the previous year and fears about their ability to pay).
Why aren’t law schools reporting the numbers? Because they lack the incentive. They’re focused on getting highly qualified students, the people who are paying tuition, not on making sure they send out highly employed lawyers. The ABA checks on bar passage rates, not on employment rates.
Hear it from Henderson and Morriss:
We would like to suggest to our colleagues in the legal academy that we are approaching an endgame. Here is the reality: prospective students are not being given an accurate picture of their future employment prospects. Why? Because we are all focused on filling next year’s class with as many high credential students as possible, thereby protecting our school’s place in the pecking order. Our focus is so shockingly narrow that, from the outside looking in, it appears that our intent is to deceive incoming students. Brian Kelly’s letter to the deans essentially makes that point–law schools fall short on candor and ethical behavior.
A stinging indictment, but all too correct. Think it’ll make a difference, though? Will the law schools listen when their rankings take a hit from a change in the calculus?
I have a proposal to shift the incentive back to the law schools: start requiring them to assist in in the financing of their student’s legal education. I don’t mean scholarships or grants–I mean financing. Make them borrow the money, and make students borrow the money–if that’s what a student is going to do–from the law school.
The result? Rather than force students to go out and get education loans to pay upfront–from the government, from banks, from their parents– requiring law schools to carry the loans would have the students pay them back to the schools. Suddenly, the school has a very real interest in making sure they are finding jobs, not taking on more students than they can help to employment, are gearing their education towards employment, and are vested in the employment prospects of their students.
A little radical, you say? Maybe so. But right now, the cards are all in the law schools’ hands, and they aren’t playing fair. It’s time for them to come clean on law students’ prospects upon graduation.