Who Are American University’s 79.6 Percent?

I’m sure readers are aware of the Washington Post Magazine‘s “The Case Against Law School,” which carefully goes through all the BLS data that readers of the LSTB found out about at least a year and a half ago. (Just stroking your vanity, reader) Among other points, the Post Magazine calls out American University for expanding its facilities even though only 35 percent of 2011 graduates had found full-time long-term lawyer jobs.

It’s one thing when this information is publicly available on the ABA’s Web site, but when mainstream sources start converting them into fractions and publicizing them, then the unenviable task of defending the system falls to the deans, such as American University’s Claudio Grossman.

The Post focused on a single employment statistic that is grossly misleading and relied on a number taken from only one of 16 primary employment categories collected by the American Bar Association … In the case of American University Washington College of Law, a far more appropriate statistic than the one The Post cited is 79.6 percent, which reflects the true employment data and career choices of our 2011 graduates. These graduates are employed in positions requiring bar passage, in positions in which a law degree provides a distinct employment advantage or in other professional positions where developed legal skills are highly valued, or they are pursuing advanced degrees.

Superficially, I think the Post is justified in using law schools’ “Employed Bar Passage Required Full-Time/Long-Term” as their success rate. For 2011, the average law school’s was 54.1 percent (average deviation, 11.6 percent), which places American University unusually far down in the scale.

But what are these 79.6 percent doing? (Actually it’s 79.7 percent.)

Most of the remaining employment status categories aren’t as glamorous as Dean Grossman makes them sound. For one, “pursuing advanced degrees” is not an employment category at all. It means that 3Ls had no jobs lined up in the fall of their third year so they triple-downed on more degrees as a backup plan if nothing good emerged by graduation. Their alternative outcome, unemployment, has been blessedly shifted off the law school’s books. So take 5.6 percent away and make it 74.1.

And how many of those 74.1 percent were employed part-time, which isn’t much of a success for three years of legal education costing $130,000 in tuition alone? I count 53 out of 467 graduates. Take 11.3 percent: 62.8. Employed full-time short-term isn’t a very impressive outcome either. That’s another 10.5 percent, what’s left rounds to 52.2 percent.

Two graduates out of 27 are working full-time long-term at American University itself, but we’ll leave them in the total. Who knows? Maybe they were hired as law professors. Another 34 of the remaining 244 graduates are in clerkships, which are counted as full-time long-term even though they are jobs with indefinite employment periods, but I’ll be generous and leave them in too.

One could do this kind of calculation for all the law schools, but in the end I think relying on full-time long-term lawyer employment isn’t “grossly misleading” at all. Taking all the law schools together, this employment status correlates negatively to every other one for which the ABA collects data, especially unemployment, which is tautological yet not trivial. Apparently, the more a law school’s graduates are employed full-time long-term as lawyers, the less likely they are to be doing anything else.

(Note: The “Other Employment Statuses” include all part-time and short-term jobs as well)

More crucially, it doesn’t even correlate to categories like “JD Advantage” or “Professional Position,” which is important for superficial versatile JD arguments, which Dean Grossman provides with full force.

A legal education is important preparation for a wide array of career choices, including employment in highly competitive jobs and fellowships in legislative and political offices, in federal agencies, in the many public-interest, trade-association, corporate offices and international organizations in and around Washington.

If this is true for American University graduates, the dean will have to do more to demonstrate why his school’s graduates are the exception. If the J.D. were versatile at graduation, then we’d expect more positive correlations with bar passage required jobs. I can see why some of the 52.2 percent of a D.C. law school’s graduates might find themselves in Washington-ish jobs rather than law firms, but without a clearer breakdown on what the 35-79 percent of graduates are actually doing, the Post Magazine is well within bounds relying on that one employment status.

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