Monday, December 31, 2012

Burk on "Law School Transparency"

Apparently they've jumped the shark.

UPDATE:  Oddly, the original post seems to have been pulled, though it was quite measured--a cache version is here.

ANOTHER:  A colleague elsewhere sends me this curious LST item:  a "complaint" against Rutgers-Camden with the ABA alleging the school disseminated "false and misleading" information to prospective students.   In fact, almost all the material they complain about is, in fact, accurate, LST huffing-and-puffing notwithstanding, but readers can look it over themselves.  (The one exception might be the use of the word "many" in connection with high-end salaries, though given prior year salary reports, even that may be defensible.)  LST's real complaint, instead, is that Rutgers-Camden did not go out of its way to present its employment data in as unfavorable a light as possible--and that is true. 

Rutgers, for example, told prospective students:"[O]f those employed nine months after graduation, 90% were employed in the legal field."   LST objects:  "[I]t excludes non-employed graduates from the calculation to provide a false sense of success. There were 242 graduates in Rutgers – Camden’s 2011 graduating class. Of these, 199 were employed. Rutgers – Camden uses 199 as the denominator with no indication that it has excluded 17.8% of the class from the calculation. While the statement does disclose that it is 'of those employed,' the number of unemployed graduates is so large that the statement requires context to avoid misrepresenting what it means."  This is a rather complicated admission that the statement is, in fact, accurate:  of those who are employed, 90% are employed in the legal field.   If it said 90% of all graduates were employed in the legal field, then it would be a false statement of fact.  (LST also disputes how Rutgers defined legal field, but that too amounts to chastising Rutgers for not adopting as unfavorable an interpretation as possible of employment outcomes, not any false statements of fact.)

Should the ABA sanction a school for accurately reporting employment outcomes, but not doing so in a way that highlights the weakness of the results?  I guess that is the question really presented here.

AND ONE MORE:  Kyle McEntee from LST sends me the following e-mail, which I quote in its entirety:

In your post on the Camden complaint you missed the part where the school admits that zero graduates made in excess of 130k despite stating that many of their top graduates in 2011 made that much.

I expect more than such shallow analysis from somebody who has been on the ball more often than not regarding law school marketing tactics.

Here is the non-shallow LST analysis to which Mr. McEntee alludes:

Camden claims that many of its “top students” have accepted positions with firms paying “in excess of $130,000.” To be sure, “many” is ambiguous. It might reasonably mean 40% of the class, or even perhaps 20%. With the “top” qualifier, it might not even strain credibility to claim that 10% of the class constitutes “many” top students. Based on records LST received from Rutgers – Camden through an open records request, the school knew that zero class of 2011 graduates employed in private practice reported a salary in excess of $130,000, with one making exactly $130,000. In the Faculty Report to LST, Rutgers – Camden indicates that several other graduates had high-paying law firm jobs waiting for them after their clerkship. But crediting these jobs is speculative until the outcomes are actually achieved, especially in today’s legal hiring climate. Even if credited for the two speculative jobs in excess of $130,000, two graduates is not “many.”

Alas, it is now LST that is giving a misleading account of the information it got from Rutgers-Camden (and which it includes in its report).  Here is what Rutgers actually reported to LST, as quoted in the LST complaint:

The salary of $130,000 was the high end of the range of reported salaries for the class of 2011, and one person reported earning that salary. In addition, three other graduates, who are currently judicial law clerks, have accepted positions for the year following their clerkships with salaries of $160,000 $135,000 and $130,000.

The following are additional detail on graduates at the high end of the salary range for the past five years. Graduates submit data from which the law school identifies the highest reported salary and calculates the 75th percentile level. The data below include information at nine months after graduation and do not include positions that graduates have accepted beginning after judicial clerkships.  In 2011, the highest salary was $130,000 and the 75th percentile (7 graduates) was $110,000 or above.  In 2010, the highest salary was $160,000 and the 75th percentile (7 graduates) was $117,500 or above.  In 2009, the highest salary was $160,000 and the 75th percentile (15 graduates) was $145,000 or above.  In 2008, the highest salary was $160,000 and the 75th percentile (16 graduates) was $145,000 or above.  In 2007, the highest salary was $160,000 and the 75th percentile (14 graduates) was $125,000 or above.

In other words:  (1) when LST says that "zero class of 2011 graduates employed in private practice reported a salary in excess of $130,000" that is literally true, but misleading, since two 2011 graduates employed as judicial clerks had accepted private sector jobs with salaries above 130K (and when Mr. McEntree writes to me that Rutgers "admits that zero graduates made in excess of 130k," he is misstating his own report); and (2) LST omits reference to the fact that "many" recent graduates of Rutgers-Camden, in fact, earned more than 130K.  As I noted at the start, there are grounds for saying the use of "many" is misleading when applied only to the class of 2011, but it is not mistaken to say that "many," though a distinct minority, of recent graduates of Rutgers are earning more than 130K.  (The recruitment letter from Rutgers to which LST objects is a bit ambiguous on this score, in a way that is arguably misleading--but that was the point I made in the first paragraph of "ANOTHER", above.)

It is true that I have written for many years about law school puffery and fraud in employment statistics (for example, here, here, here, and here).  One or two of these incidents may have risen to the level of being worthy of ABA investigation.  But I do not see that what Rutgers has done falls into that category, and the LST "analysis" in this case does, indeed, support Professor Burk's worry in the post to which I linked initially.

And on that note, a Happy New Year to all readers!

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