Thursday, October 6, 2011

Progress

Here's an article in article in the Dayton (OH) Daily News which does a pretty good job of painting a less than pretty picture of the employment situation for Ohio law school grads.  Relying on research from Columbus lawyer and adjunct law professor Jason Dolin, it throws up plenty of red flags for careful and cautious prospective law students.  Unfortunately the modifiers are crucial, since the reported stats, both in Ohio and nationally, understate how bad the employment situation really is.

For example, the first employment stat a reader encounters is this: "The employment rate for new law school graduates in 2010 was 87.6 percent, the lowest percentage in 14 years, according to the National Association for Law Placement."  I fear that this initial framing of the situation, which is of course completely fantastical, tends to have a strong influence on the reader's interpretation of everything that comes later.  After all, even if it were the case that one in eight law grads weren't getting law jobs, that should be a matter of serious concern for people incurring six figure debt to obtain law degrees.  So the reader may think "yes, that's concerning, but I'm not going to be one of those people."

With luck, readers will pay close attention to the story's next graph:  "Even more alarming is the fact that 27 percent of the jobs were temporary and 11 percent were part time, said James Leipold, the association’s executive director. Only about 68.4 percent of graduates obtained jobs where passage of the bar exam was required."  That should set off alarm bells, since the cautious and skeptical reader will assume that this much lower figure is both extremely disturbing in itself -- NALP is admitting that fully a third of grads aren't getting legal jobs! -- and quite possibly still full of statistical fluff, as indeed we all know it is ("Jobs as lawyers" includes temporary contract work, fake jobs invented by law schools to plump up stats, jobs that aren't really full-time or don't really require a law degree but are described that way by respondents, and so forth).

This graph is rather unfortunate: "Despite perceptions that lawyers are all high-paid, the national median
 starting salary for the class of 2010 was $63,000, down almost 13 percent from $72,000 for the class of 2009, according to the National Association for Law Placement."  If only this had included the caveat, "This median is not an actual median for the class of 2010, but is based on unaudited self-reporting by the less than one half of graduates who reported any salary information to NALP.  The true median salary for the class is undoubtedly far lower."

The story does include lots of useful stats on law school debt (Not to nitpick but it could have made it clearer that this was law school debt, not educational debt in general, let alone total unsecured debt. We can at this point only imagine what those numbers look like).

Better yet, it features some nice quotes from Dolin about how disingenuous schools have been about hiding their real employment and debt stats, and about how they should be required to feature this information on their web sites. This is followed by something resembling, if only loosely, actual employment stats for Ohio's law schools.


In 2010, about 63.3 percent of 2010 graduates from (Univ of Dayton) law school held full-time, juris doctorate-required jobs, said Mc-
Greal, the dean.

This compares to 53 percent at the University of Akron, 52.6 percent at the University of Cincinnati, 67.1 percent at Cleveland State University, 61.4 percent at Ohio State and 40.3 percent at the University of Toledo law schools, according to Dolin’s report
.
UD’s full-time, juris doctorate-required, nontemporary job rate was 57.6 percent, compared to 48.2 percent at Cincinnati and 59.2 percent at Ohio State law schools, according to McGreal and Dolin. Information was not available for the other schools.

It's worth noting that the temporary versus non-temporary distinction here is crucial, and that the stats given out by the three schools that purported to supply that information seem hard to believe. (If nationally NALP reports 27% of law jobs for 2010 grads were temporary, it seems very odd that almost none of the law jobs held by the graduates of the three schools that revealed this information to the reporter were temporary).

Even so, the cautious reader should be seriously taken aback by these stats.  After all, OSU -- a school towards the middle of the top tier -- is revealing that 41% of its grads report they don't have a real law job nine months after graduation.

The other interesting feature of the story is the evidence it provides of how the softening demand for spots in law schools is already having a marked effect on some lower tier schools. Dayton has decreased its entering class by 15% this year, in order to protect its LSAT, GPA, and bar passage numbers, all of which affect its USNWR ranking.  As word about the actual employment situation gets out, more and more schools will be forced to follow suit.

The story concludes with what, under current conditions, represents progress in terms of a law school's dean's willingness to acknowledge serious problems with law school as an investment, and with the failure of law schools to disclose that fact:

McGreal said the job market for law school graduates is certainly tougher than it has been in a long time, but law school is still a good investment for many people.

He said law schools have an obligation to be transparent with applicants about their potential future earnings and the amount of debt they will accrue from student loans. He said only then, can applicants make informed decisions about the return on the investment for a law degree.

“The more information we can get out to applicants — and hopefully it will be accurate information — the better decisions they will make,” he said.

12 comments:

  1. Yup, it also needs to be made plain, though, that there is no guarantee that after this recession is over (whenever that is) that legal jobs will return. It may well be that out-sourcing and automation will make any shrink in the number of in-work lawyers permanent.

    Sure, there's a lot of people who don't like out-sourcing, but when it comes right down to it it's impossible to prevent. Same goes for automation. Put simply, if you can pay a room-full of people in Bangalore to draft documents using cheap software which are then fed through a qualified attorney in the US (or wherever) for a final check, no-one on earth can stop this.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This also demonstrates the value of being a middling "top tier" school. There is none. The Ohio State grads fare just as bad as the others. I think a lot of 0Ls are fooled by the first tier. Being ranked 30 means nothing. Might as well be 130.

    ReplyDelete
  3. 8:53, those are the worst scams of all because they take students that could have gotten full rides at lower ranked schools, but give them a degree that is worth no more than a degree at the lower ranked school.

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