I admit I thought the Law School Transparency project was a pie-in-the-sky movement when it first popped up on the legal scene during the height of the recession. Founded by two Vanderbilt University Law School students in 2009, LST has been pushing law schools for detailed information about how graduates are employed--or not. Part of its mission is to provide an objective measure about the "worth" of a law degree.
Until recently, it seemed like a voice in the wilderness crying for reform. When it asked law schools to commit to the principle of transparency, only Ave Maria Law School agreed, only to later withdraw.
But Law School Transparency just got a big fish. The ABA "has taken its first formal step toward improving the accuracy and transparency of law school employment data," reports The National Law Journal. The ABA approved changes to its annual law school questionnaire, requiring detailed information on employment and salary--pretty much what LST has been lobbying for.
Why is this a big deal? Academic institutions aren't usually held accountable--especially ones as mighty and self-righteous as law schools. More radical, perhaps, is the tacit acknowledgment that law schools are essentially trade schools, and getting a job is the endgame. Gone is the pretension that people should feel privileged to learn theory or be adroit in the Socratic method.
Here's what the ABA will require law schools to provide, according to the NLJ:
1. Percentage of graduates who are employed and details about the types of jobs they have.
2. Whether graduates are in jobs that require a law degree; whether they are unemployed; whether their employment status is unknown; and whether they are in jobs funded by the law school or university.
3. The top three states where graduates work and the number who are working overseas.
On its Web site, LST calls the ABA's action "an enormous step . . . towards helping prospective law students make informed decisions."
Interestingly, LST is not pushing for audits of the information provided by the law schools. It states on its Web site: "It seems unnecessary to us because we do not believe the problem lies with falsified data, but misleading information."
The mission is far from over, writes Kyle McEntee, one of LST's founders, in an e-mail to me: "We are not asking for schools to do more work, just that schools share the data that they have that does not violate privacy norms and privacy laws. The challenge is now showing the ABA that there is no reason to withhold these data."
It's not easy getting the attention of a mammoth organization like ABA, but LST did it. It deserves our kudos.
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