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Law School Employment Data:  What to Trust When There’s No Question of Trust

There’s a terrific piece by Jill Backer in the New York Law Journal that every prospective law student and law school advisor should read carefully. It is a brief and useful examination of the various metrics that are used by law schools and others for the reporting data on employment for students coming out of law school. I won’t summarize or repeat what the article says here but the basic point is that no one has really figured out how to report employment data that is useful across the board, i.e., for all prospective and current law students.

Over the past few years, the employment data has gotten better. In the past I was pretty critical of what the ABA required law schools to report, but the standards and specificity of the data have gotten better. Ms. Backer outlines all of this, so why isn’t she satisfied?

There is a simple answer: there is no summary reporting design that could possibly fulfill every law student’s needs. Every new piece of reporting data both reveals and conceals something. This isn’t a question of having to believe that law schools are dishonest or deceptive. There is no question of trust—or at least, there is not necessarily a question of trust.

The problem lies in the fact that there are tens of thousands of law school students with thousands of different needs and aspirations. No data set can get to all that.

In turn, that means that if you rely only on reported data, you’re not going to get the targeted information you need to make your best law school
decision. Very few schools have a wide and deep national reach; conversely, for certain occupations (law professors, for example), relatively few schools provide consistent, excellent opportunities for their graduates.

In general, schools are more (or less) limited geographically and by the reputational quality of government, clerkships, firms and other private practice into which they consistently place graduates. There is also the “depth of bench” factor. Some schools provide great opportunities only for graduates placing at or above a certain percentage of their classes, others can provide equivalent opportunities further down the bench. In addition, this information changes on a yearly basis, although there are also consistent patterns.

What all of this means is that law school applicants want to strategize about how to get the information they need to make their best law school investment decision. It is a process of due diligence on law schools that goes beyond the base data that law schools report to the ABA. At Advise-In, I spend a lot of time with clients discussing how and when to obtain the information they need to make their best decision. It’s a critical piece of the admissions puzzle, and one that far too few prospective law students engage in as seriously as they should.


by Kyle Pasewark at Advise-in Solutions on December 10, 2018.

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