David Donovan, The Daily Record Newswire
If you graduate from Law School X, how likely are you to get a job? How much money can you expect to make? What are the odds you’ll actually practice law? Twenty-five years ago, there was no way for prospective students to get accurate answers to these questions. Law schools published gaudy numbers about their career outcomes, but there was no way to check these sometimes dubious numbers against reality.
Recently, that has changed in a big way, thanks to a noisy network of activists who have successfully pushed law schools to become more transparent about students’ outcomes. Now, prospective students have access to much better information about the likelihood of eventual employment—and it appears they don’t like what they’re seeing.
Most of this work has been done on the Internet. One of the most influential websites, indeed the one whose name has become synonymous with the movement, is Law School Transparency. Started in 2009 by two Vanderbilt law students using data from that school, the organization began lobbying other law schools to provide similar information. Initially, many law schools resisted, but as pressure on schools from applicants and activists grew louder, it became increasingly difficult for schools to withhold information about job outcomes.
LST now publishes for every law school an employment score showing the percentage of graduates who have successfully started a career in the practice of law. Perhaps more important, it also produces an under-employment score, which reflects the percentage of graduates working in jobs for which their skills and credentials make them overqualified. The site also indexes the amount of information schools are willing to share with applicants.
Recent changes in ABA standards have forced accredited schools to share far more information than was available a few years ago. Every school must now display on its website ABA-required information about how many students have jobs nine months after graduation and details about those jobs—full-time or part time, long-term or short-term, whether graduates are working at law firms, and if so what size, and so on. Groups like LST are pushing schools to go further and provide more data on salaries, and many schools have started to comply.
In addition to the raw data, a number of so-called “scam-blogging” websites emerged to highlight the gap between the demand for law school graduates and their supply. One of the most prominent ones,
The narrative eventually started seeping into mainstream media, and several legal scholars have written books on the subject. In a short time, an idea that once seemed like a subversive thought — that a legal education might be a risky investment for many students — has now become conventional wisdom.
The increase in information has clearly influenced students’ decisions. As of May 17, the date of the most recent report from the Law School Admission Council, about 55,760 people had applied to ABA-accredited law schools for the 2013-14 school year. (Based on past years, that probably represents 95 percent of total applicants for the coming year.) That’s a 13.4 percent drop from the same report last year—the third straight year of double-digit declines in applications. In 2004, over 100,000 people applied to law schools.
Campos and other bloggers often quote the maxim of economist Herb Stein: If something cannot go on forever, it will eventually stop. Supply and demand for lawyers appear to be moving toward harmony.
Law school may be a good investment for some applicants and a bad one for others, but thanks to the law school transparency movement, students are at least making their decisions on the basis of more and better information.