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Messages - observationalist

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1
Thanks for the suggestions. Nealric, we've discussed opening up a self-reporting method but ultimately decided that it was better to get the data already being collected by the schools, and use public participation as a way of auditing the information schools submit.  Accuracy and truthful reporting would be extremely difficult to verify, and at least when it comes from the schools there's an aspect of accountability in how they report.  We also think schools would find it hypocritical if an organization that aims for honest reporting is willing to accept information from unverified sources.  It also duplicates the work schools already do in the way of data collection; of the nine components in the LST standard, career services offices already collect 7 of them for each graduate in answering the NALP/USNews surveys.  One of the other two components, journal membership, is typically already available publicly; we're just asking the schools to match that up with job outcomes.

That said, many graduates have written to LST to reveal information about the job they had after graduation, the school they attended, and how they think the school listed them.  Not surprisingly, the people who choose to contact us are upset about how their employment outcome was portrayed.  We can probably verify a number of those data points for use in cooperating with the schools, particularly those who don't currently see a problem with the reporting standard.  It might therefore be really helpful to solicit more information from recent graduates, though I doubt we would ever be able to pull up more than anecodtal reports.  Even a few of those, however, could be potentially damaging to a law school's reputation if they were verified.

2
Thanks for posting the article.  I haven't been on here for awhile (is the search feature still busted?) but I saw this on the front page and wanted to recommend people check out the known salary charts we put up on the website last month (here http://www.lawschooltransparency.com/clearinghouse/ )

If you look at a few schools you'll see that there is enormous variety in the number of graduates that are represented in a school's published salary information.  Look at a few of the charts and then check out the websites of the same schools to see how they portray the same information.  Many schools fail to report enough salaries to even permit an educated guess as to what the median salaries might be for a class, and yet the medians and the percent employed in the private sector are typically the only statistics advertised by admissions officers.  We think the charts highlight some of the major problems with the current reporting standards.

One big problem they don't address is what type of jobs people are obtaining.  Within the private sector, no distinction is made between associates, contract attorneys, paralegals, or secretaries.  I think very few law school applicants realize that a school's private sector percentage might actually include non-attorneys, even the people who have done their homework.  Even when you factor in optimism bias, the reporting rates are extremely low for a lot of schools.  One thing we hope the ABA 509 subcommittee will consider is setting forth some minimum reporting requirement before a school can advertise a median salary.  If a school is only collecting salary information on 16% of the class, it seems odd that they can hide that fact while still advertising a median salary of six figures.

We'll be providing some updates soon with our next steps, but anyways I'm glad someone found that article.  An interesting op-ed that followed the original article in the Star-Ledger (http://www.nj.com/business/index.ssf/2010/08/irate_law_school_grads_say_the.html), written by the Dean of Rutgers-Newark, sheds some light on the hurdles we have ahead of us: http://blog.nj.com/njv_guest_blog/2010/08/the_real_value_of_a_legal_educ.html .  If you look at our Data Clearinghouse, you'll notice that Rutgers-Newark collects starting salaries for fewer than half the graduating class.

Looking forward to seeing some more discussion on this. -obs

3
For the love of all that is reasonable, THE ECONOMY HAS CHANGED. 2008 numbers ANYWHERE are NOT APPLICABLE. Look at the NLJ 250 placement stats between the classes of 2008 and 2009. Note that the 2007 OCI was considered vastly better than the 2008 OCI, and that, in comparison to the 2008 OCI, the 2009 OCI was a bloodbath.

To give you some examples:
-rumor has it that UT advertised "part-time law assistant/nanny" jobs on symplicity.
-rumor has it that the percentage of Columbia 2L's who got at least one offer from their OCI program dropped from 97% to 67% between 2008 and 2009.
-rumor has it that Georgetown students at the MEDIAN are having trouble finding internships in D.C.

Debating the relative merits of in-state schools is fine. Debating those merits on the basis of these statistics is a recipe for disaster.

Also, to mnewbold: thanks for the help, and good luck spreading the word around.  This is going to be one massive information request once it goes out in a few months.

4
For the love of all that is reasonable, THE ECONOMY HAS CHANGED. 2008 numbers ANYWHERE are NOT APPLICABLE. Look at the NLJ 250 placement stats between the classes of 2008 and 2009. Note that the 2007 OCI was considered vastly better than the 2008 OCI, and that, in comparison to the 2008 OCI, the 2009 OCI was a bloodbath.

To give you some examples:
-rumor has it that UT advertised "part-time law assistant/nanny" jobs on symplicity.
-rumor has it that the percentage of Columbia 2L's who got at least one offer from their OCI program dropped from 97% to 67% between 2008 and 2009.
-rumor has it that Georgetown students at the MEDIAN are having trouble finding internships in D.C.

Debating the relative merits of in-state schools is fine. Debating those merits on the basis of these statistics is a recipe for disaster.

Agreed (although Vanderbilt actually increased its NLJ250 placement between 2008 and 2009... not all schools saw a drop off between those two years).

Class of 2010 2L placement for Vanderbilt dropped from about 64% in NLJ250 firms to about 49%, and a number of that 49% did not receive offers at the end of the summer.  Based on what I've seen from Class of 2011 2L placement, they will likely be an additional 10-15% below what my class (10) pulled off.  Regardless, the school will be publishing Class of '11 2L summer employment lists sometime in June/July.  If you really want to see how different schools are faring, then accepted students need to contact UT, Cornell, GULC etc and ask for the same information.

All the schools collect information on 2L summer employment; it's just a matter of reminding them that the employment stats they provide for pre-ITE classes are largely irrelevant right now.  You need to see what the Class of 2010 and '11 are doing for work right now, and the only people who have that information are current students and the law schools themselves.  Ask away.

5
Law School Applications / Re: BEWARE THE LAW SCHOOL SCAM, LEMMINGS!
« on: April 22, 2010, 10:17:56 AM »
http://lawschoolscam.blogspot.com/

SquireJons, just read the post someone (you?) put up on lawschoolscam about our transparency project... thanks for getting the word out.  We completely agree that there are certain characteristics about people that improve their job outcomes but that have little to nothing to do with the name of their law school or their performance.  For example, the paper we wrote looks at a really great study (which ATL did a piece on last month) that showed better-looking attorneys are more likely to be in the private sector and more likely to achieve partner status.  Nepotism and family background are also huge factors, since they can often guarantee you a job regardless of which law school you attend.  The problem with trying to expose what I consider to be the dark underbelly of legal hiring is that you're going to scare way too many employers away from hiring at lower-ranked schools.  If a top law firm takes a median-ranked student from a less reputable law school for nepotism reasons, they're doing it because they believe it will help their business.  Clients want to see their kids employed, law firms want to keep partners at the firm happy, etc.  We run into the same problem with firms whose clients value diversity, since they may relax their hiring criteria for URMs or women.  And they probably relax their standards to recruit better-looking graduates, at least where they think their clients value looks (or luxor as Hammermesh and Biddle call it).

In the end, a lot of private information that may be really useful for prospectives just goes too far outside the realm of what is already being collected by the schools.  That's one of the main reasons why we think this new standard will work; schools already collect 6 out of the 8 components we're collecting across the two lists ("Job List" and "Salary List"), so complying with the new standard should be relatively easy. 

At least, it's easier than researching family connections or rating the physical appearance of each graduate.  As far as using the information provided in the new lists which we will (try to) collect from all 200 ABA-approved schools, people may want to assume (on their own) that some of the anomalies were based on non-performance criteria like looks, luxor, height, race, family connections, etc.  If a law school only places one non-law review graduate in a top law firm, that individual had to have had something going for them.  The only problem with our list is that it won't explain whether it was based on non-performance criteria or on something that we may actually give credit to, like incredible networking or interviewing skills, savvy internet-researching skills, nunchuck skills, etc.

Regardless thanks for posting on us, and sorry for the long response.  I'll see if I can put this up in your comments as well.  As we wrote in our article, this whole thing is all about getting the word out and discussing the merits of greater transparency.

-obs

6
Question to all of you currently in law school:  how many of you think your schools might be willing to disclose full employment lists showing where everyone goes, assuming their peer programs did the same? I ask because that's basically what we're trying to do.  We're specifically wondering if individual Deans or other law school administrators have made comments that indicate they want to make sure prospectives are better informed coming into law school.  I know the Deans at Southwestern and NYLS have both made statements indicating they might want to talk with us, so we're off to a good start.  And the media coverage right now is hopefully getting our message out to people as well.

bigs, it sounds like GGU told you ahead of time not to expect them to get you a job, and instead suggested that if you network well you can find something straight out of law school.  That's a great disclaimer, but it's still not as legitimate as actually showing you statistics for the entire graduating class.  And if you have classmates who have tried the networking thing and still found themselves shut out of jobs (maybe because they didn't do as well at the law school game as they figured they would), then they may be of the opinion that the law school misrepresented the job prospects (even if it's better attributed to the market shrinking/disappearing for some law schools).

And I haven't been on here in awhile but this board was particularly useful back when I was deciding on where to go to school, and I like how the discussion centers around different programs.  Now that we're trying to build up a consensus among all ABA-approved law schools and improve the reporting standard, I wanted to check with those of you who are current students at other schools.  Let me know what you think about our project and what you think will be the eventual outcome (and whatever important things that outcome may hinge upon).

best, -obs

7
Where should I go next fall? / Re: Any suggestions on peaceful law schools ?
« on: September 11, 2009, 04:29:58 PM »
Whichever school THAT is, regardless of atmosphere, it is a huge detriment to any law student looking for a job not to have a class rank.

most of the very top schools do not rank their students.  it's actually not all that big of a problem.

I mean it certainly could hurt someone who's top 10% at Vanderbilt not to be able to say they're top 10% for a firm that mandates top 10%, but that person is still going to get a job. Collectively, not being ranked improves the chances of all of us finding work... it takes some of the focus away from course performance and places at least slightly more emphasis on an individual's personal achievements.  Vandy ultimately wants to show employers 195 people who are all qualified to make good attorneys in various areas of practice and get all of us jobs.  Part of that is bringing in the right people by interviewing, being more selective in acceptances, and being more generous in giving out scholarships to candidates they believe will easily be employable after a few years of legal education.

Some of that is kool-aid (often scholarships just go to people with the highest LSAT/gpas, and without interviewing them a school risks they could let in people who have high numbers but can't even hold a conversation), but at least that's the argument in favor of not assigning class ranks.  The schools are trying to get everyone they've accepted hired, not just those who have outperformed their peers in taking timed exams.

8
Where should I go next fall? / Re: J.D + Divinity degrees
« on: September 11, 2009, 04:21:13 PM »
Having a better understanding of law by getting a JD would definitely assist someone who wanted to work for some sort of faith-based urban (or rural) development org, but I'm not entirely sure how far an M.Div would help in a strictly legal career.  Remember that most JD programs are currently still priced under the assumption that biglaw is an option, when for many of those programs your chances of paying off all that debt through a high first salary are small. Someone who knows they don't want to practice law needs to really look at the debt they're taking on by getting a law degree and factor in scholarship considerations more than someone who at least intends to practice law. 

Dunno how it works at other schools but at Vandy people can cross-register in either the law or div schools without getting a joint degree.  As an example, I went to New Orleans last year as part of a pass/fail poverty immersion course through the divinity school... we met with a number of public interest attorneys, ministers, non-profit general contractors, academics, enviro justice coordinators, and community organizers who were all working on various post-Katrina issues.  The course was open to all graduate students, so myself and another law student signed up and went. It was a great week and I got a good glimpse at how differently the divinity students were approaching the same issues as we were. One of the JD/MDivs also went to Bangladesh two years ago as part of Project Pyramid, which sends students from all the grad schools each year to meet with Yunus at Grameen Bank and help the biz school develop business plans for economic growth in a few rural villages.  He didn't need to be a joint degree candidate to go on the trip, he just had to cross-register for a course in the biz school to prepare.

But getting back to jobs: you don't need a joint degree to be able to either 1) add religious aspects to your legal education in preparing to be a lawyer or 2) enhance your understanding of legal issues in preparation for some sort of faith-based work. But if you're really passionate about both and you don't mind footing the bill, it's certainly not a bad 4-6 years to spend.

9
Where should I go next fall? / Re: Any suggestions on peaceful law schools ?
« on: September 11, 2009, 04:06:17 PM »
There hasn't been a fullout brawl at Vanderbilt now for at least two years... I consider that fairly peaceful. Plus, we aren't ranked and we're far more geographically diverse than most law schools, including all the schools ranked above us in major markets. 

I think if you're looking for a non-competitive atmosphere you want to see how many people in a given class are actually competing for the same jobs.  I am currently the only person in my class of 195 looking to practice environmental law in two particular markets, which means I get the use of the Vanderbilt brand name all to myself in applying for jobs in those cities.  I also have faculty members assisting me directly without having to vie for their support with my classmates.  Sure, in the marketplace I'm still competing with people from other schools, but at least here I haven't had to worry about discussing job prospects with my friends.  And the better a school's brandname and rank are, the better your chances are in the market.

In general, small schools with wide geographic placement ability (for the largest % of their class) are going to be the least competitive.  The lack of a ranking system helps us increase that % of the class downwards but that's only one of the ways a school ensures jobs for its students... brandname (and the USNews ranking associated with it) is extremely important in helping students to avoid group panic mode and study in a less competitive environment.

10
Where should I go next fall? / Re: Environmental law, where should I go?
« on: September 11, 2009, 03:52:38 PM »
Because everyone loves rankings (but primarily because gatorlion is doing a lot of research while applying to law schools with the intent to eventually practice enviro law):

http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=tXWyWMzdoyb7k-UKYdEBzQQ&output=html

And the thread where they read/respond to questions or comments: http://www.top-law-schools.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=79085

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