Debra Cassens Weiss, “No Fudging: Revising Standards Bars Law Schools from Publishing Misleading Consumer Info,” ABA Journal
On reading government white papers, one of my graduate school professors said, “It’s not what they’re thinking, it’s what they want you to think they’re thinking.” This characterizes what happens in August when the ABA House of Delegates holds its annual meeting, but the ABA announced two things: (1) concurring with the Section of Legal Education on its revised transparency standards, with sanctions, and (2) a new task force on the future of legal education.
The new standards are what they are. I’ve looked through the data and am surprised that so few people didn’t return the surveys at all (<5%, but the real story is the Puerto Rican law schools that either haven’t reported to the ABA or put little effort in doing so). As I showed last week, there are some statistical tools one can use to determine if people who work at law firms tend to actually be licensed attorneys and not paralegals or janitors. The latter would probably pay well, but now I’m just being cynical. And “Business & Industry” is as worthless a category as it ever was.
As for the task force, its got its work cut out for it. We’ve seen the Massachusetts State Bar Association bend over backwards to avoid suggesting that any of the state’s law schools close, consolidate, or reduce their enrollment to meet the state’s needs. In the end, though, there’s still an unwillingness to cut losses, by which I mean talking straight to underemployed recent (and not-so-recent) graduates and conceding that their law degrees are pretty much worthless. They’re unlikely to work in professional white-collar jobs absent serious policy reform, and they can put their loans on Income-Based Repayment so they can just go away.
If I recall, I don’t think I believed the ABA could put together any transparency requirements, so that’s good for them. However, I doubt the task force will recommend state bar authorities simply require undergraduate legal education for licensing rather than the current graduate-level one, reforming or abolishing the Direct Loan Program, revising the bankruptcy code, and some kind of contrition regarding the consequences of its needlessly lax accreditation standards.
For example, over the weekend, the Oregonian jumped onto the law school-trashing bandwagon and it even got a quote from New England School of Law dean John O’Brien, whose mentality reflects the ABA’s:
“It’s not the ABA’s job to police the number of law schools,” O’Brien said. “Law schools are like other businesses. Ultimately, that’s what they are. If there are people who feel there is a void that needs to be filled around the country, the process is to apply for ABA approval. If you meet those standards, you get approved.”
Even though the ABA could tighten bar passage requirements to ensure that law schools weren’t frivolously enrolling students on government loans, they don’t have to because they’re businesses in the “unregulated” market. For instance, why the ABA re-provisionally accredited the University of La Verne when barely half of its graduates passed the California bar last year (less than half if you exclude graduates who took other states’ bars instead) is colossal regulatory failure. The aforementioned Puerto Rico law schools appear to be failure factories, not that they send data to the ABA.
Point is, if the task force is serious, it’s going to have to start by justifying the La Vernes of the system and why it keeps accrediting them. If they’re “businesses” then why should they profit on debt?