Transparent Law School Employment Data? During the Long Wait, What’s an Entering Law Student To Do?

The ABA Journal reported this week on a new nonprofit, Law School Transparency, which sent a request to law schools to provide comprehensive employment data.  An admirable objective but I’m not holding my breath waiting for law schools to respond in a meaningful way.

Currently, readily-available published data is, as Law School Transparency’s effort implies, thin and uninformative.  Law schools, of course, cherry-pick the good news for their promotional material.  Nothing wrong with that, as long as it’s true information.  And if a prospective student accepts that information without doing her or his own due diligence, well, that’s kind of on the student (it also indicates a lot to learn about lawyering).

There is, of course, the annual ABA-LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools, which includes employment data that appear at first glance to be comparable between schools.  A must-have publication in many respects, here it’s a lot less informative than it appears.  First, unless you have a collection of Guides, you can only get data for the last year, i.e., you can’t see what schools’ employment trends are, if any.  In addition, the data don’t tell you what employed graduates are actually doing, just how many are employed and where they work, in broad categories (number of states, clerkships, law firms, academics, business, government, public interest, etc.).

Thanks.  That’s basically useless.  Clerks where?  In what capacity in government, and at which agencies?  Which law firms?  As what (remember Ellen Branch’s post, which told us that several of her classmates were employed at law firms as legal assistants, not lawyers)?  The data provided by the Guide don’t distinguish between a top-flight law firm and a chop-shop firm, a small city clerk’s office and the SEC, a paralegal and a lawyer, a Fortune 500 business and the corner grocer.

Does the absence of meaningful easily-accessible data mean that entering law students are just out of luck while they’re waiting for law schools to respond to Law School Transparency with meaningful data?

Not at all.  Instead, it means that as you’re considering which law school to attend, you need to ask smart, clear and aggressive questions of law schools.  Here are just a few of many possible avenues to pursue (your advisors should be all over the array of possibilities).  You think you might want a law firm job after graduation?  You can ask which law firms have been most represented as employers of a school’s most recent several graduating class.  You can ask about whether schools have placed people at particular firms that you name (you need to realistic here, and have a very good knowledge of the legal and law school markets to be able to do this successfully).  You can use slightly modified strategies if you have an interest in government, public interest or clerkships.  You may want to ask schools for information about alumni—who is still working at the places where entering lawyers were placed?  Who are the most successful alumni?  You can ask about specific trends.  You and your advisors should also do independent research; it’s a lot of legwork (much of which your advisors should already have done) but it’s well worth it.  And so on.  There are a myriad of ways to get the employment data you need to help you make a decision between law schools.

In my experience, most law school personnel will answer questions fairly honestly, making allowances for interpretation and shading.  They’re not inclined to dissemble any more than they’re inclined to volunteer information beyond the “party line.”  That means it’s incumbent on you, as a prospective law student, to ask the right questions.  You don’t need to be satisfied with the paucity of easily-available meaningful information.  You can develop deep, meaningful comparative data that will help you make your law school decision—and since it’s your future on the line, it’s well worth doing it.

~ by Kyle Pasewark at Advise-in Solutions on July 17, 2010.

13 Responses to “Transparent Law School Employment Data? During the Long Wait, What’s an Entering Law Student To Do?”

  1. […] –target your law school applications carefully and strategically, understanding what post-graduation opportunities they are likely to yield (including any recent changes to how those law schools operate or are perceived, such as changes to […]

  2. […] apart from rankings, we’ve talked about certain of the questions you should ask law schools you’re considering about their success in this tight market and how much merit-based financial […]

  3. […] employment (I’ve talked about the general uselessness of law school employment data and how incoming law students and their advisors can glean better and more useful data despite the poverty of law schools’ public data).  Then, as your admission and financial […]

  4. […] law students can do to gather the same information that the Transparency Project is seeking.  A few questions and approaches to law schools were included in that post and I won’t repeat them here.  Your admissions advisor should work with you closely to develop […]

  5. […] that “some of the numbers are cooked” is, on balance, positive, especially since some of those incredibly unhelpful numbers have for years been implicitly sanctioned by the […]

  6. […] 6.  Law schools are not universally forthcoming about these changes.  My clients often attend one or more of the many law fairs around the country.  Some of the preliminary questions we often decide my client will ask are a few general questions about the impact of the downturn in the economy and the legal market.  They’re usually soft questions—we’ll ask the harder ones later.  So far this year, the answers have been disappointing, although not surprising—no law school so far has been willing to face or admit to any impact of the economic crash.  That law schools (even elite ones) have not seen any impact simply isn’t and can’t be true.  For example, highly-ranked Georgetown Law’s extension of its program (which is a worthy one, and not common enough) to help its recent graduates through a difficult time simply wasn’t necessary 5 years ago.  It is now.  The law fair lesson is pretty straightforward: law school is a business and most won’t admit that the world has changed.  So law school applicants will have to look harder and dig deeper than they might otherwise, simply because the impact of a bad law school investment is more devastating than it might have been a few years ago.  A few things that prospective law students might do to help their own inquiries can be found here. […]

  7. […] of room to press them for real, helpful data about their recent graduates.  I’ve mentioned just a few of the questions to ask law […]

  8. […] expect law schools to do more than cherry-pick their successes; to get more, you need a clear strategy to uncover information that’s uncomfortable for law […]

  9. […] law schools are telling.  In addition, no matter the granularity of data, there will always be other questions an applicant will want to ask.  I’ve talked about some of those before.  In the best of all worlds, you and a top-flight law […]

  10. […] want to know.  I’ve talked before about the importance of developing a strategy to get the information you need from law schools.  That’s true of the NLJ report, too.  Moreover, simply because of its purpose, it has some […]

  11. […] investment if you’re not sure you really want to practice law).  But it’s crucial to get clear graduate employment data from law schools before you decide to attend.  You and your law school admission advisors should carefully […]

  12. […] helpful for a particular prospective student’s decision.  (We and others have emphasized the pathetic and unhelpful nature of the data the ABA currently requires law schools to disclose and the relatively anemic reforms that are being contemplated.)  You are about to drop a […]

  13. […] (which as we’ve learned, means not just buying into what the school brochures are selling, but doing your own due diligence and asking questions), preparing for the LSAT and getting your best score, putting together your […]

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