What Happened To Survey Which Was Expected to “Lift the Veil” on School Data?

In an ambitious move that launched expectations of long-awaited transparency regarding law school job numbers, students formed a non-profit aptly entitled “Law School Transparency”. This project, started by Vanderbilt University law scholars Kyle McEntee and Patrick Lynch, addressed the troublesome issue that the bar on data pertaining to jobs obtained by law school graduates wasn’t very high.


The Am Law Daily explained that the purpose of the project was to “ferret out accurate statistics”.   How did they do that?  In July of last year they asked 199 law schools which were accredited by the American Bar Association to respond to their survey.

This survey asked for more details than these same schools were supplying to the ABA and U.S. News & World Report. We read that “[m]any law school critics hailed the move as a sign the veil would finally be lifted on those that fudged their numbers.”   The survey had a September deadline and, as of that deadline last year, only 11 schools had met that deadline.

(Since that time, another school, Ave Maria School of Law in Naples, Florida, agreed to provide the required job statistics as required by the two students.)

What did the schools who turned down the offer have to say for themselves? One claim was that disclosing such information would violate their students’ and employers’ privacy.

A few other excuses: the compliance costs are too great; the project or foundation was not well-established, and other methods of providing improved (as in better) information was preferred.

If we go to the official site of the project, Law School Transparency, we read that, although only a low number responded, the schools “were communicating with each other during the response period”.  As of November 15, 2010, the publication of the report on the LST site, Ave Maria was the only school that had come through with a “yes”, as opposed to a “maybe”.

The school was to provide employment data for the class of 2010.  As per LST’s request, we read, the school would release said information sometime “soon” after the February 15, 2011 deadline.

Here the plot thickens. According to an Above The Law blog post dated February 23, 2011, the only school which had indicated that it would provide the required information changed its mind.

“Ave Maria Goes Back Into Hiding From Law School Transparency,” Elie Mystal wrote in her blog.

“In September,” Mystal noted, “Ave Maria announced that it would be the first law school to adopt the proposals set out by the Law School Transparency project for employment reporting by law schools. And now they’ve gone back on their word. Ave Maria has informed the LST people that they will not let people applying to Ave Maria know what they’re getting into.

The school has decided that it doesn’t want to be ‘first’ and they’re punting the issue back to the ABA.”

Apparently, Ave Maria administrators didn’t want to take any action before hearing what the ABA had to say on the matter.  Part of their reasoning was that ABA reform is ostensibly in the works.

The school also felt that: “…if the school is the only one to comply with the LST Standard, it will not be useful to prospective students because they will not have anything with which to compare Ave Maria’s employment data.”

This, opines ATL’s Mystal, would have made sense had it not been that LST wasn’t asking for something out-of-the-ordinary.  They were, says Mystal, being asked to tell the truth.

Additionally, we read, Ave Maria had just up and moved from its Michigan locale, so there was no network to speak of in its new hometown.  This gave the school more of a reason to be upfront with its students. “The Class of 2010 marks the first class to graduate from Ave Maria since its move to Florida,” we learn. At any rate, Mystal notes, whether or not law schools need incentives to “not obfuscate”, and whether or not they do so, is entirely up to the ABA.

Graphic courtesy of Above The Law.

-EM

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