Professor Merritt has invited me to write about this (lack of) correspondence in the context of NYLS's representations, especially since an increasingly popular line of defense in legal academia is that one can't merely look at first jobs, because salaries for law graduates often improve dramatically within three to five years of graduation. This is precisely what NYLS is claiming regarding its own graduates. Let us look at the "evidence" the school presents for this claim -- "evidence" which, we should note, is presented in the context of an explicit recruiting pitch to prospective law students on the school's web site.
First, under the heading "What Can I Expect To Earn?" the school presents seriously misleading information about average salaries in first jobs upon graduation, including statements such as that graduates entering "business" reported salaries ranging "from $50,000 to $150,000." Obviously this claim is based on the school's employment data for the class of 2010, where the salary for the "corporate/business" category is given as $50,000 to $150,000. Now Judge Schweitzer's "sophisticated consumers" of employment information will, if they click through to another document on the web site, and read it with the attitude of opposing counsel combing through documents produced in discovery, discover that this range is based on a grand total of ten reported salaries.
Our sophisticated consumers ("sophisticated" here means "people who expect as a matter of course that institutions of higher learning will attempt to seriously mislead them if they can get away with it") will go on to perform some calculations on the "nested" statistics presented by NYLS, and realize that these salaries represent less than ten percent of the graduates employed in the "corporate/business" category (if they are even more sophisticated they will realize that "corporate/business" is in most cases a synonym for "low-paying non-legal positions graduates could have gotten without spending $200,000+ on a law degree first). Etc.
But NYLS is being a model of transparency at this point in comparison to what comes next. What comes next is the following statement:
The entry level salary is one indicator of what you can expect to earn, but many law graduates change jobs three times in their first few years of practice . . . Upon changing jobs, our graduates do see an increase in salary. Your first job will certainly not be your last.A bar graph table is then represents this information.
A recent study of New York Law School alumni who graduated between two and four years ago showed their salary increases in their second and third jobs. First salaries in the $40,000 to $60,000 range were the most common (46 percent) but that shifted with the graduates' second and third jobs to the least common (20 percent). At the same time, salaries in the $60,000 to $90,000 range grew from 22.5 to 35.5 percent. Salaries in the range above $90,000 grew from 26 percent to 40 percent. All of these jobs changes took place within four years of graduation.
Let us consider what the reasonably reasonable person reasoning reasonably about whether to enroll at NYLS would reasonably conclude from this information. Note that this information is presented as the fruit of a "recent study" by an academic enterprise, rather than as a sales pitch. Here again we see how law schools trade on their cultural capital as academic institutions rather than as mere businesses trying to make a buck (and again the irony is that a "mere business" would be running a much bigger risk in the courts of New York state if it tried to pull anything quite this sleazy on its prospective customers). All of which is to say that an academic institution presenting data in the form of "study" is representing that something intellectually rigorous or at least minimally respectable is being offered up to the ingenue seeking reliable information on the subject at hand.
What the prospective law student would reasonably conclude from this data is:
(a) Almost everyone who graduates from NYLS gets a first job that pays at least $40,000.
(b) More than a quarter of NYLS grads get a first job that pays more than $90,000.
(c) The percentage of of NYLS grads who are making more than $90,000 increases significantly within four years of graduation from the percentage expressed in (b).
(d) 75.5% of NYLS grads who change jobs within two to four years of graduation are earning more than $60,000.
All of these conclusions are based on a profoundly misleading presentation of the available data. A straightforward presentation would include the fact that the salaries of only 26% of the NYLS class of 2010 were known, and that the "study" of how much growth supposedly took place in regard to initial salaries within two to four years of graduation was based on X number of graduates. We of course do not know what X is but I trust the people who are currently suing NYLS will use New York's rules of civil procedure to extract this information and make it public.
Remember, all of this "information" being presented by NYLS to prospective students is being put forth even as the school is being sued for misleading prospective students about employment prospects. Now what could possibly explain such behavior? Some candidates:
If I were a New York state judge hearing the suit against NYLS, I would be prone to consider this part of NYLS's web site to be the metaphorical equivalent of flipping me off. On one interpretation, these appear to be people who simply feel invulnerable. They're accused of fraud, and their reaction is to continue to publish egregiously misleading statistics under the rubric of an academic "study."
On another interpretation, the people responsible for publishing this may be so clueless that they don't understand that the numbers they're presenting are inherently phony. There are a lot of genuinely stupid people working at law schools, and, as real academic studies have noted, one of the big drawbacks of being a stupid person is that you tend not to realize this fact about yourself.
This is the inevitable product of the combination of the first two factors. NYLS put up a bunch of phony new salary stats even in the midst of getting sued for doing exactly that, got called on it by a law professor, and then proceeded to not only fail to do anything about this (such as for example taking the stats down), but to also aggravate that professor unnecessarily, by not even bothering to reply to her queries after assuring her that they would, thus leading eventually to this very unpleasant public discussion of their behavior. That's grotesque institutional incompetence, but as anybody who has had much in the way of dealings with law schools knows, pretty much par for the course in this business.