Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Hiring Unemployed Grads as Research Assistants: A Dean Comments

Dean Lauren Robel at Indiana University, Bloomington writes in response to the “hiring grads for short-term employment at graduation” gripe:

I have  looked carefully at the US News questionnaire, the ABA questionnaire that it references, and the National Association of Law Placement (NALP) "Instructions for Compiling and Reporting  Employment Report and Salary Survey Data."  Let me walk you through the convoluted reporting issue, and then make a comment. 

US News asks for employment statistics "at graduation" and at 9 months after graduation (Feb. 15 of the year following graduation).  It references the ABA Questionnaire Part I, Section 12, Question 34B.  However, that section of the ABA Questionnaire only asks for the Feb.15 data.  It does not ask for "at  graduation" data.  NALP's survey does not ask for "at graduation" data either, but it does ask schools to code each student as having received a job offer "at graduation" or at one of 3 other times ( before bar, after bar, and 9 months out).  When asked  (and I am sorry this sounds Clintonian) what a "job" was, Judy Collins at NALP confirmed what the NALP instructions suggest, and I quote, "A job is a job."  (I asked if I could quote her.)  It doesn't matter whether it is legal or nonlegal, or permanent or temporary.  And to complete the loop, the instructions for the ABA questionnaire refer back to the  NALP Graduate Survey Form.

So the bottom line is: There is no collection by either the ABA or NALP of ONLY full-time legal employment at graduation (or 9 months out for that matter, although that latter data is at least segmented in ways from which you could tease out most legal employment).  And the only group that collects anything like at-graduation employment data is explicitly NOT collecting only full-time legal employment.  Thus, the "at graduation" data  reported by every school to US News is only employment, and, as I  confirmed with Ms. Collins at NALP, that can, and should, include  flipping burgers as well doing legal research for law professors.

I think that, for purposes of ultimate legal employment,  students are better off doing research.  Most public school students are going to have to do something to  make ends meet between graduation and full-time legal employment.  From NALP’s perspective, if they are bartending, they are employed.  Cleaning tables---employed. Legal research---employed.  At IU, we ask students to apply for short-term positions on the basis of their debt load and their lack of immediate prospects for full-time employment.  It keeps body and soul together while they are studying for the bar.  As dean, I make zero apologies for this.

Finally, the idea that this is misleading students assumes that "pure" full-time legal employment statistics exist and are requested by US News.  Both assumptions are false. No one reports only full-time legal employment at graduation, because no accrediting or other agency requests it, and neither does US News.   If anything is misleading students, it is the way in which US News presents the employment statistics.  Apparently representatives of NALP met with Bob Morse of US News recently to talk this  through.  Perhaps there will be further developments. 

I will just observe that prior to U.S. News, I am not aware of any law school hiring its graduate as research assistants because they are "better off" doing that than being unemployed.  It is, of course, true that even the A.B.A. and NALP don't distinguish between legal employment and flipping burgers.  Perhaps this point needs to be hammered home to prospective students, who routinely misinterpret the U.S. News data.

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