The ABA has released job data for the class of 2011, and Law School Transparency has organized and broken down the numbers. I’ll have several things to say about these figures this week, but preparatory to anything else I want to salute LST for the amazing work they’ve done and continue to do – work that is all the more amazing considering the organization consists a handful of recent law school graduates, and that they have no funding to speak of (Speaking of which, throw these people some money).
And this work is having a major effect. Due to the political pressure put on it – pressure which is in no small part a consequence of LST’s advocacy efforts -- the ABA has now begun to provide prospective students with far more granular information about employment outcomes than what was available even very recently. It seems hard to believe that less than two years ago every single law school in the country was slamming their doors in LST’s face.
Let’s look at the first “Tier One” law school that appears in LST’s alphabetical list to get a sense of what the ABA’s data, and LST’s breakdown of it, tells us about the current state of the market for law school graduates.
American University is charging that portion of its entering class which will pay the full sticker price $50,149 in tuition. The school estimates the full cost of attendance for this coming year to be $70,204. LST helps prospective students understand that debt financing a law degree from American will result in a total debt of $246,988 for the entering class, assuming modest annual cost of attendance increases. (This debt load would result in 120 loan payments of $2,945 over ten years or 300 loan payments of $1,843 over 25 years, i.e. about $354,000 or $553,000 in total payments respectively).
And what can a student expect in return for this investment? LST provides interested parties with a school’s “Employment Score,” which consists of long-term full-time employment requiring bar admission, minus solo practitioners. It’s important to understand what “long-term” means in this context. LST uses the definition employed by the ABA and NALP, which includes all employment except for employment of a definite term of less than one year. This means that a large number of explicitly temporary positions – for example law-school funded “jobs” that last for one year, about which more later – count toward improving a school’s Employment Score.
LST also calculates an Under-Employment Score, which is made up of those graduates who are unemployed and seeking work, working part-time, working in temporary positions that have a definite term of less than one year, working in long-term explicitly non-professional positions, or are re-enrolled in another degree program.
Note that these are quite conservative definitions. For instance the definition of “long term” employment includes many jobs that are long term in name only, and the exclusion of those graduates who are listed as unemployed-not seeking from the Under-Employment Score allows schools to engage in various statistical shenanigans (For example I know of a case in which a law school’s dean instructed the office of career services to ask all graduates who listed themselves as unemployed as of graduation to make an appointment with the office, to discuss their job situation. The dean then ordered the OCS to list all students who declined to make an appointment, or who simply didn’t respond to the request, as “unemployed-not seeking” for the purposes of the NALP and ABA nine-month post-graduation numbers).
Indeed, it’s fair to say that LST is putting as good a face as can reasonably be put on the numbers it is analyzing. This is certainly a legitimate choice, as it ought to preclude claims that LST is exaggerating the gravity of the situation. But prospective students should be aware of that choice, and recognize that in many instances a school’s Employment Score would be much lower, and its Underemployment Score much higher, if one employed even moderately skeptical assumptions in regard to this data.
Now let’s look at American’s data. (American is currently in the 76th percentile of the USNWR rankings). 167 of the 467 graduates in the class of 2011 -- 35.76% of the class -- had a full-time “long-term” position requiring bar admission. 56 graduates (12% of the class) had a long-term job with a law firm of more than ten attorneys, while 61 graduates were listed as unemployed and seeking work. Another 21 graduates were listed as unemployed-not seeking. 27 graduates were working in law-school funded jobs, although only two of these jobs were both full-time and “long-term” (As we shall see in another post many schools have placed large numbers of 2011 graduates in school-funded jobs that the schools characterize as full-time, long-term, and requiring bar admission – thus greatly increasing their Employment Score per LST’s methodology).
An astonishing 42.4% of the class was underemployed according to LST’s -- again, conservative and quite generous to legal academia -- definition of underemployment. This number is made up of 61 unemployed-seeking graduates, 49 graduates in short-term (less than one year) full-time positions, 44 [!] in short-term part-time positions, 15 in long-term part-time positions, 26 graduates pursuing another graduate degree, and three graduates listed as employed in long-term, full-time non-professional positions.
Sometimes it helps to step back for a moment and consider how extraordinary things we treat as quite ordinary really are. Given these catastrophic employment numbers, it’s extraordinary that the federal government will loan nearly $250,000 to anyone who American University chooses to admit to its law school. And American is a “good” school! We’re a long, long way from the bottom here. Thanks to Law School Transparency, everyone who bothers to look can now see how deep the rabbit hole goes.