Dean Rudy Hasl of the Thomas Jefferson School of Law has responded to my request that the Law School Transparency Petition be distributed to his faculty with the following message:
"As you can see by our website postings, Thomas Jefferson has been quite transparent about releasing truthful and comprehensive info on our placement of graduates. I do not think that there could be more transparency than we provide. Any thoughts about what we can do better would be appreciated."
I do appreciate Dean Hasl's response. As of today I've only gotten responses from the administrations of about a dozen of the 200 law schools I've contacted regarding the petition. Four agreed to distribute the petition to their faculties, five others responded that they were forwarding the request further up the administrative hierarchy, two replied that they have institutional policies against distributing petitions, and Dean Hasl replied as per above.
A visit to TJSL's website reveals the school has linked to a pdf file of its most recent report to NALP, for the class of 2010. This indeed represents a higher level of transparency in regard to employment outcomes than almost all other law schools have to this point been willing to share (It's possible TJSL's sudden outburst of relative candor may have something to do with the fact it's being sued for publishing misleading employment statistics). Nevertheless, could TJSL do better? I think it could.
Consider some of the holes in this information. To begin with, the school has employment data of any sort regarding just 81% of its 2010 graduates (179 of 221). Of that group nearly a third (57) describe their employment status as "JD preferred," which is of course a very amorphous category. 101 describe their employment as permanent, another 35 characterize it as temporary, and another 43 do not address this question.
The most problematic gap in the data is that only 24 graduates -- barely more than ten per cent of the class -- provide any salary information. Of this group a total of six graduates reported salaries of $75,000 or higher. Meanwhile the average law school debt of the 95% of the graduating class that incurred such debt was $137,352. A single person with no dependents with that level of educational debt will qualify for Income-based Loan Repayment if his or her income is under about $145,700 (the precise figure depends on interest rate assumptions, but this number is accurate within a few thousand dollars in either direction).
Now Dean Hasl might well point out that, under the current ABA regulatory regime, TJSL is already (at least as of a few months ago) disclosing much more information than it is required to disclose, and that in any case TJSL doesn't currently have the power to force its graduates to disclose more information than they're disclosing. Both these points are true, but both are contingent on the present regulatory arrangement, which in theory is easy to change.
The ABA could decide tomorrow to force every accredited school to release exactly the same information TJSL has released. Of course it isn't going to do anything of the kind, since the ABA's section on legal education is dominated by law school administrators and faculty, and indeed mostly people from lower tier schools, who clearly have the most to lose from increased transparency. Far from requiring more transparency, the ABA chose last week to require even less.
As for forcing graduates to reveal information, this too could be managed via the regulation process. After all law schools force entering students to reveal all sorts of information, and state bars impose even more stringent requirements on applicants. There is no reason (again in theory) why graduates couldn't be required to provide employment information as a condition of continued good standing to practice law.
But such measures are probably unnecessary. A potential solution to the transparency mess would consist of requiring every law school to post something along the lines of the following warning on its web site. "The Thomas Jefferson School of Law graduated 221 students in 2010. All these graduates were asked to provide employment and salary information nine months after graduation. A total of six of these 221 graduates reported a salary of $75,000 or higher. The average law school debt of the 95% of graduates who incurred debt was $137,352. The average graduate of this law school would have had to secure employment featuring a salary of at least $145,000 to avoid eligibility for Income Based Repayment, the government's educational loan welfare program."
Such a requirement would, it seems to me, create plenty of incentives for law schools to find out exactly what their graduates were doing nine months after graduation.
Update: See this excellent post from Brian Tamanaha at Balkinization about the myth that things were fine before Great Recession hit. Fully a third of ABA law school grads weren't getting law jobs prior to 2008, even using NALP's very liberal definition of what counts as genuine legal employment.