The American Bar Association’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar recently preliminarily approved a new accreditation standard for law schools. The new standard would require law schools to report more information about the jobs their students receive upon graduation as well as scholarship retention rates. However, the council would not require law schools to report salary data. This issue has been in the news a lot lately. It was brought to light when a class action law suit was initiated against law schools, claiming that they mislead law students about their employment prospects upon graduation.
Advocates for more transparency in law school data argue that without the salary information, students would be left in the dark about their earnings prospects.
The proposed new standard comes after the ABA reviewed its law school accreditation standards. A standard reviews committee spent the last three years studying the issue. During a recent meeting the council amended Standard 509 which covers consumer information, as well as Rule 16 which sets out penalties that may be imposed on law schools for violations.
Under the new Standard 509, law schools must publicly disclose on their websites their admissions data, tuition rates and fees; enrollment data; faculty size; curricular offerings; library resources and facilities; employment data; and bar passage rates. If law schools do publish salary data, they would have to set out the number of graduates upon which such data was based. The law schools would also have to disclose the number of graduates who are working at jobs requiring passage of the bar; jobs in which a law degree is preferred; professional and nonprofessional jobs; the numbers of law school graduates seeking additional degrees; and the number of unemployed undergraduates.
The schools would have also have to state whether the graduates who are employed are working full-time or part-time and whether their positions are long-term or temporary in nature. Law schools would also be required to disclose the number of graduates working at jobs which are funded by the law schools themselves. For each of these job categories, the schools must disclose the 25th, 50th, and 75th percentile salaries that their graduates are earning. The salary figures would also have to be provided for fifteen job categories including jobs at small firms and large firms, government positions and jobs in the public sector and academia.
The council removed all salary data, i.e., law schools do not have to report salary data. One of the reasons for the elimination of salary data was because it was really hard for law schools to collect accurate salary information from its graduates. Also, the data is skewed because very few graduates respond to the request for salary information.
The council’s removal of the salary data makes its requirements consistent with changes already implemented by the ABA’s questionnaire committee. This committee creates the questionnaire to be completed by accredited law schools every year. The questionnaire committee instead requires schools to disclose in which three states the largest percentage of graduates found jobs.
Advocates for more transparency in law school information argue that this new standard is defective. It does not allow prospective law students to differentiate between the graduate salaries of lower and higher-ranking law schools. These advocates argue that instead of eliminating the information altogether, the council should have amended how the information is collected and provided in order to make it more accurate.
Now that the council has obtained preliminary approval for the change, it is in the process of soliciting public comments. It will then hold a public hearing on the issue. Once the period for soliciting comments ends and possible revisions are made, the council will again put the proposed standard to a vote. The standard will only become final once the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates votes on the proposal which is scheduled to occur no earlier than August.