As American Bar Association leaders consider more exacting standards for law schools for reporting post-graduate salary and employment information, a new round of class action suits is ratcheting up the pressure on schools and the ABA to address allegations of fraud and misrepresentation.
An ABA committee has recommended that an ABA council on legal education and bar admissions adjust its standards, according to law.com, an American Lawyer Media website. Law.com reports that the committee’s proposal includes requiring individual schools to report salary numbers for the 25th, 50th and 75th percentile for graduates in jobs requiring a law degree, J.D.-preferred jobs, other professions, and nonprofessional jobs. Schools would need to report salary information in 15 job categories.
In recent years, law school graduates and watchdog groups have complained that law schools offer averages, incomplete reports or otherwise misleading statistics about how much graduates earn and what jobs they take in the first years after law school. On Feb. 1, the watchdog group Law School Transparency announced that 12 new lawsuits alleging misrepresentation have been filed against law schools, bringing the total of number of these suits to 15. The schools facing suits are: Albany Law School, Brooklyn Law School, California Western School of Law, Chicago-Kent College of Law, DePaul University College of Law, Florida Coastal School of Law, Golden Gate University School of Law, Hofstra Law School, John Marshall School of Law (Chicago), Southwestern Law School, University of San Francisco School of Law, Widener University School of Law, Thomas Jefferson, New York Law School, and Thomas Cooley. Allegations include unfair business practices, false advertising, fraud and negligent misrepresentation.
The proposed changes would address these issues by mandating that every ABA-accredited law school make specific information on each graduating class available via its website for three years. In addition to percentile salary figures, schools would have to report the number of graduates reporting, and whether graduates are in long-term or short-term jobs, or in jobs funded by the school.
Kyle McEntee, executive director of the group Law School Transparency, says the committee’s proposed changes are good steps. “It doesn’t go far enough, but we are headed in the right direction,” McEntee said.
He also said he expects more class action suits to be filed against more schools in the near future.
Alison Monahan, a North Carolina native and 2006 graduate of Columbia Law School, addresses issues of post-graduate employment on her website, The Girls Guide to Law School (thegirlsguidetolawschool.com). She said it’s important to have schools report their salary and employment information accurately and clearly because that information greatly influences a school’s ranking, which influences student choices and post-graduate employment.
“I was in law school during a huge boom, frankly. No one that I knew was thinking too seriously about whether they would get a job because they assumed they would get a job,” she said. “It’s a different environment now. I think the word is starting to get out. There’s more of an awareness that this is not some golden ticket, that you’re not guaranteed some $160,000-a-year job upon graduation.”
The proposed changes also include strengthening the ABA’s hand by explicitly stating that the accrediting body can sanction law schools that provide “incomplete, inaccurate or misleading consumer information.”
McEntee said he expects The Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to approve the changes. The council meets next on March 16 and 17 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.