The YLD’s incomplete approach to law school transparency

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Aug 6, 2011 in Unsolicited Commentary | Subscribe

Good evening folks! :D

Day 3 of the ABA’s 2011 Annual Meeting features the “Assembly” portion of the ABA Law Student Division, where representatives from all the law schools in attendance convene legislature-style to debate and vote on various resolutions, along with the usual end-of-year awards and speeches as old officers retire and new officers begin their terms. ((I also got to enjoy this beautiful Toronto weather and caught the tail end of a “Civil Rights in the 21st Century” CLE earlier in the day, where I inadvertently crossed paths with former N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Henry Frye :spin: ))

If memory serves me correctly, there were 174 delegates in attendance representing just 99 law schools — an unfortunate reminder of how many of the 199 law schools nationwide had -0- presence at this meeting. :crack:

While other resolutions certainly had more contentious debate — a proposal asking law schools to elicit more information from students claiming Native American heritage was adopted in a heavily-split vote — the item that bothered me was known as Resolution 111B, adopted by the ABA Young Lawyers Division in February and dubbed its “Truth in Law School Education” resolution.

You can read some of the details about the TILSE document in this February piece at the ABA Journal. Essentially the resolution demands that law school’s provide greater disclosure of the employment survey data they collect from recent graduates, so prospective students will have a more accurate gauge of their employment prospects before taking on six-figures’ worth of loan debt to get a law degree. The YLD then handed the resolution to the LSD to ask for the students’ endorsement.

Generally, good stuff…

…but it was readily apparent this particular agenda item was less about its content than it was about good ol’ fashioned logrolling. When the YLD representative gave his report on the topic, his first words weren’t about the resolution — he instead made sure to note that YLD was “standing behind you” on an unrelated resolution seeking to get voting power for the LSD representative to the ABA’s Board of Governors. :roll: One of the LSD delegates even tried various linguistic twists (contortions rivaling the very best yoga practitioners) to insist the resolution “doesn’t add any additional burdens on law schools” because “we can’t make demands, we can only make recommendations.” ((This is the kind of semantic chicanery that makes everyday people despise lawyers. Either (a) you expect your recommendation to be enacted, in which case it adds an additional burden on law schools, or (b) you don’t expect your recommendation to be enacted, in which case you’re wasting everyone’s time “endorsing” a purely symbolic piece of paper. :roll: ))

Which is just as well, because the resolution’s contents as-written are woefully insufficient. ((As just one of many many many examples, a delegate from Washburn Law raised an excellent point: in addition to the stats YLD wants to collect, there should also be some kind of indicator of how much help the Career Services Office actually provided in a student getting a job. It makes no sense for a law school to tout a given graduate’s employment when that graduate had to do 100% of the work finding the opportunity and securing it.))

In typical American fashion, the YLD has taken a two-part equation and expended untold hours and vast sums of energy focusing on only one side of it: the Big Bad Law Schools and the games we all know those schools play with their employment statistics.

But a key contributor that enables law schools to play those games with statistics are the less-than-100% response rates from their newly minted (and likely newly licensed) law school graduates, who are often too busy to waste time with filling out a form they have -0- incentive to complete. When someone doesn’t return a survey, do they count as employed? Unemployed? Excluded from the dataset entirely? The methodologies relating to those questions are among the core issues underlying the skewed stats.

That problem is also compounded for HBCUs and other law schools where the bulk of students go into public interest professions. When following your passion barely lets you pay the bills, you can’t exactly take even more unpaid time from your daily schedule to fill out even more paperwork.

So in typical T. fashion, as an advocate for my law school I decided to raise an issue no one else seemed interested in bringing up. :angel: I submitted a page-long form to speak ((A requirement mentioned nowhere in the Standing Rules of the LSD Assembly and completely foreign to the Robert’s Rules of Order said Assembly was using as its parliamentary authority. )) that contained the following innocuous statement:

The American Bar Association Law Students Division (ABA-LSD) embraces a “full spectrum” approach to improving Truth in Law School Education, including both greater data disclosure and more comprehensive data collection. To promote that objective, the ABA-LSD encourages the American Bar Association to petition state bars (or equivalent licensing agencies) to grant some form of Continuing Legal Education credit to graduates who complete and return post-graduation employment surveys.

CLE credit: a simple and easy solution.

Using North Carolina as an example, even a single Professional Responsibility credit would incentivize new lawyers to reply by letting them meet 1/12 of their annual CLE obligations, all at no cost beyond the time spent completing it.

Yet like every other group that frowns upon people rocking the boat, actually considering ideas that weren’t pre-vetted by the folks in charge was verboten — my attempted amendment was somehow ruled out of order by the presiding officer by citing some illusory “protocol” that decreed “we cannot amend another group’s resolution.” ((Assuming arguendo such “protocol” exists, and ignoring the fact it doesn’t appear anywhere in the Assembly’s Standing Rules or in Robert’s Rules of Order, I wasn’t amending the resolution. I was attempting to amend the LSD Board of Governors’ main motion to endorse the resolution, from “We endorse this document” to “We endorse this document, but…”; hence why the amendment wasn’t in traditional “Whereas etc etc / Be it resolved etc etc” format common to resolutions. ;)  The abject failure to grasp this most basic of parliamentary concepts has exposed the notion of “professional parliamentarians” (which the LSD uses to help with presiding) as a complete and total fraud. But I digress…)) :crack:  The unamended resolution was then passed by voice vote with only token opposition.

Regardless of the LSD’s take on the issue, however, the fact remains that the YLD is raising this great hue and cry over law school employment statistics without making a comprehensive effort to fix it. The ABA’s full House of Delegates will be taking this document up over the next few days, and will likely adopt it in its unaltered form — and we’ll all get to listen over the next few years as these new “reforms” still fail to fully address the problem.

Here’s hoping someone over there has the cajones to at least propose a full spectrum solution…


From the law:/dev/null ABA Annual Meeting-related archives:

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Aug 7, 2011 at 5:56 PM

Uhhhh, as someone who has filled out one of these very burdensome career services survey, the “people working public interest don’t have time to fill it out” argument is pretty weak. I work as much (and, honestly, more than) any public interest folks I know, and I managed to fill it out. And took the bar and moved cross country too.

The truth is that people who aren’t satisfied with where they shake out in the employment game are simply less likely to fill out a survey. It has everything to do with psychology and nothing to do with burden or time. It takes, literally, less than 2 minutes. But feel free to try to offer the 0.034 CLE credits due. Schools could just withhold your degree until you complete the survey (there’s an incentive), but the truth is that most of the schools don’t WANT to know the real answers and don’t want real response rates. (Until recently 25 percent of those whose status was “unknown” were counted as “employed” — a dubious assumption….)

Aug 8, 2011 at 11:27 AM

You’re highlighting my point — if filling out the survey is really only worth 0.034 CLE credits, than giving them 1 PR credit is a +3,000% return on investment that will surely induce more responses than would otherwise come in ;)

This entire issue really boils down to a string of binary conditional statements:

(1) Are law schools the sole problem here? [Yes | No]. If [Yes], then this resolution standing alone is fine (albeit of limited value). If [No], then proceed to (2).

(2) Would a punishment / negative incentive produce more responses than would otherwise be returned? [Yes | No]. If [Yes], determine the punishment. If [No], then proceed to (3).

(3) Would a reward / positive incentive produce more responses than would otherwise be returned? [Yes | No]. If [Yes], proceed to (4). If [No], give up.

(4) Would a CLE credit in some form provide adequate incentive? [Yes | No]. If [Yes], do it. If [No], come up with something else.

My suspicion is a positive incentive would greatly improve the response rate. But even if it doesn’t work, there’s little harm in the experiment offering the credit beyond already-licensed attorneys being upset they can’t get in on the deal :P

Aug 8, 2011 at 11:34 AM

By in large, the numbers that are eventually generated are subjective. Subjective to completion, subjective to interpretation, and subjective to frame of mind and level of contentment of the person completing said survey. So while the numbers themselves are quantifiable, what are they really representative of? The schools themselves can keep track of how many students come in to Career Services and how many they are able to hook up with leads and eventual jobs through follow ups. That’s not too difficult. However, if you make poor first impressions or don’t interview that well, is that telling on success or failure of the institution? It’s almost like Bar Exam pass rates. Yes, that is important. However, is that pass rate an expression of the school’s ability to teach you concept and theory of the law and in the process how to think and write, which bar review you choose to invest in, or an aggregate of the entire experience?

Aug 8, 2011 at 4:13 PM

Yeah, but #2 would be answered in the affirmative. Anyway, I think your carrot solution doesn’t work not because it is insufficient incentive (you shouldn’t really need much incentive, so it’s too MUCH incentive). I just don’t like your solution because helping hypothetical future law students not make stupid decisions is not really the purpose of the professional responsibility. Sure, you can get CLE credits for a lot of dumb presentations but a 2-minute survey? I think the stick is better in this situation, particularly because the “stick” is really just assuming everyone who doesn’t respond is unemployed and making $0. My guess is that you’d have a year of inaccurate rankings (if that, even) before law schools for whom the assumption is not fair made it a high priority to get the surveys completed. ($50 tuition rebate?)

Aug 10, 2011 at 6:57 PM

@Tango3: Fair points, but there’s gotta be some kind of quantifiable metrics gathered just to get at least a rough approximation of a school’s performance over time. Otherwise prospective students would have even less info with which to make a reasoned decision :beatup:

@Va: You might very well be right about a “stick” option being more effective, I just don’t think it would ever fly — at least with public law schools. Can you imagine the political uproar over a school “paying” its own graduates to fill out the survey (in the case of the rebate)? Or over a school withholding diplomas until it’s completed?

For the private institutions these ideas would probably work just fine, but I think all it would take to upend the concept for public schools is your first pissed off UNCCH Law grad running to the General Assembly to ban this or that practice.

Aug 13, 2011 at 6:48 PM

That is true, there is very little information available. But I wonder too if things like school name and reputation have just as much or more to do with selection as a quantifiably objective decision based performance. I, for one, think its the the pink elephant in the room that you can have two grads seeking the same position, one a summa grad from a tier 4 school and the other graduated in the bottom quartile from Harvard. I’d venture to say that the Harvard grad would get the job about 90% of the time. And that’s a shame and travesity to the quality of what some of the other schools can do and the kinds of graduates they produce. But it doesn’t change what happens.

Aug 14, 2011 at 11:51 AM

Oops, travesty. I’ve got pudgy fingers.


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