Monday, December 5, 2022

School-funded jobs, long-term outcomes, and law school rankings (Michael Simkovic)

One area of disagreement among law schools and between U.S. News and some of the law schools boycotting its rankings turns on whether and to what extent school-funded jobs should count as post-graduate employment.   

The argument in favor of inclusion is as follows:  School funded jobs pay students real money.  From the perspective of students, some money is better than no money.  These jobs are of varying quality and some may enable students to gain experience or develop skills or build a professional network that will increase their chances of landing higher paid, more permanent positions.  If so, then employers as well as students would prefer that law schools subsidize these jobs.

The argument against inclusion is as follows: these jobs are menial and low paid and have little to no value to students or outside employers.  They only exist to pad schools’ employment statistics.  Students are being hired to file books in the library for minimum wage, with no training and no networking opportunities.  Moreover, offering these jobs may reduce students’ motivation to seek higher value employment.

Without careful studies by labor economists of the long-term effects of these programs on incomes and employment, it’s difficult to assess their value beyond providing a salary in the short term.

But what we can say is that, all else being equal, students would probably prefer to have the safety net of school-funded jobs and the salaries they provide.

To the extent that school-funded jobs are suspect because they are temporary or low paid, a better approach might be to include in the rankings a longer-term measure of graduate incomes and employment.  This would capture differences in job quality for both school-funded jobs and other categories of initial employment that supposedly offer long term benefits, such as clerkships.

Including longer term measures might also do a better job of measuring the extent to which law schools prepare students for specific employment opportunities.  Law firms and other employers may hire at the entry level based on grades, but they ultimately retain and promote attorneys based on their job performance.  Thus, for example, a school with more robust offerings in business law may see its students perform better over the long run at law firms and corporate employers, while a school with more robust offering in public law might see its graduates perform better in government jobs.  And a school with more clinical offerings might see students excel in small or solo practice.  This is all speculative, because no one has studied the effect of specific law school course offerings on long term student outcomes.  However, at the undergraduate level, there is strong evidence that certain majors cause students to have higher incomes and better employment prospects than others.

If the rankings incorporated longer term graduate income and employment, law schools might conduct similar studies and adjust their curriculums according to the findings.

Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic | Permalink