August 21, 2014

Opening up the books on post-grad employment

Remember graduating from law school?  Remember studying for the bar, and then taking the bar, and then that long wait for results?  And, if you were in my class, just starting to realize that the economy’s nose dive affected the legal industry, too, there was during all of that the constant hunt for a job.  Because those student loans weren’t going to pay themselves, see?

Rewind four years earlier: when this writer was considering which law school to attend, prime among my considerations what the employment rate of graduates within six months of graduation.  Let’s assume I had been accepted to an ample  set of choice schools (though none in the top 15, which would make this whole discussion moot, anyway), and I was trying to decide which school would give me the best opportunity to pay off those then only anticipated student loans.  With the average law school debt load ending up somewhere between $100k and $140k, the ability to repay the loans is among the prime considerations in selecting the school.

Enter the law school employment office and their oblique “employment statistics.” Two Vanderbilt students are taking on the system:

In a paper published at SSRN, [Patrick Lynch and Kyle McEntee] argue that summaries for each law school in the ABA’s official guide can be confusing. Prospective students looking at the summary table for a law school will see the number of grads employed in law firms, but they won’t be able to tell whether they were working as attorneys, law clerks, paralegals, contract attorneys or administrators, Lynch and McEntee write. The national summary report, however, shows that 6.9 percent of all law school graduates in the class of 2008 working at law firms actually held nonlawyer positions.

Similarly, would-be students who check out the number of graduates employed in business and industry will find that “in-house counsel [are grouped] with short-order cooks at Waffle House,” Lynch and McEntee say.

So let’s say I’m in-house counsel.  And I am grouped with short-order cooks.  Nice.  At least I have an office.

Is that fair?  (not that I am being grouped with short-order cooks, but that prospective student’s are basing their decisions on it).  Essentially, when the prospective student looks at those numbers, trying to evaluate the prospects for post-graduation employment, they want to know where alumni have ended up.  Based on how the numbers are now, little do they know that the stats are cooked to show a favorable impression of the school.

Personal experience supports this.  As I approached graduation and was trying to find out where my fellow students were going, as well as were they had gone in years past, and even after graduation when I asked where we had all landed, at each request I was met with opaque responses citing “confidentiality.”  I’d buy that, except that the graduation survey that I was hounded to complete, even before I was fully employed, explicitly listed me with the option of either being employed, or not employed, but gave no option for partial employment or non-law related employment.  Even when I expressed my hesitancy to complete the survey because it did not seem to reflect my experience, the employment counselor pressed me because “it helps the school’s recruiting to show employment, and besides, this is only for statistical purposes.”

And what might those purposes be? Recruitment.  Only.  As if it were so benign.

Which brings me back to Lynch and McEntee, our enterprising Vanderbilt 2Ls. They say that

[...] law schools hide their employment data in aggregate form, the National Law Journal reports. “You may know that 50 percent of graduates got jobs at law firms, but you don’t know what types of firms and types of jobs they got,” McEntee, a 2L, told the publication.

The two students have created a website called Law School Transparency where they hope to publish more specifics. They want to describe in more detail where law school graduates end up working each year and how much value they received from their degree.

In particular, they want each school to provide information about each student nine months after graduation that includes employer type, employer name, position name, whether bar passage is required or preferred, full-time or part-time status, office location, whether the student worked on a law journal, and salary.

Lynch and McEntee aren’t asking for each student’s grade point average or class rank out of privacy concerns, but they believe law journal information will suggest whether students were at the top of their class.

It’s a great idea, and it may do something to open the law school market up to better education, better employment offices (as in, they actually try to help all of their students, not just the top 10% who are headed to the big, shiny firms), and better networking.  Competition is good for everyone, and opening the windows to transparency will only enhance prospective students’ ability to make informed choices.

I know I would have been more discriminating if I had known more about my school’s employment office before I paid down my deposit.

(via ABAJournal)

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