Monday, August 20, 2007

Academic Employment of Law School Graduates

In February, 2007, law schools recorded what sort of work their alums had found nine months after graduation. In the fall of 2007, law schools reported that data to the American Bar Association. Which law schools do you think reported the highest percentages of employed grads working in academia? Not Yale. Not Chicago. Not any of the law schools you would probably expect. The ABA data [Excel format] tells this story:

Table Indicating Law Schools with Highest Academic Employment Figures in Feb. 2007

What explains these results? First off, note that "academic employment" does not here equate to teaching the law. It refers simply to working at an educational institution. Second, note that it does not equate to full-time work. Working part-time as a professor's research assistant or even as an envelope-stuffer in a law school's development office would thus qualify as "academic employment." Third, note that a school's Emp9 score counts for 14% of its score for purposes of U.S. News & World Report's law school rankings.

Together, those observations suggest a possible cause of the relatively high "academic employment" figures reported above: law schools hiring their own grads. I concede that other explanations might apply too, though. Perhaps the ABA data contains errors, for instance, or perhaps a great many graduates from, say, McGeorge got fed up with the law and became elementary school teachers. I also concede that I can imagine very good arguments for why law schools should hire their own grads for part-time work. It probably beats out-and-out unemployment.

Still, though, we might well wonder if those same graduates were sorely disappointed when they failed to find the sort of full-time legal work that they had expected to get after three years of law school. And we might well wonder how much the somewhat misleading Emp9 figures used in USN&WR's law school rankings contributed to that unpleasant surprise. Why doesn't USN&WR instead measure full-time employment for which a J.D. is required or preferred? The National Association of Legal Professionals' form [PDF], which defines the categories of employment data collected by both the ABA and USN&WR, already asks schools for that data (see question II.A.) It remains only for USN&WR to abandon the present Emp9 measure, which has proven alarmingly fallible, for something more likely to tell would-be law students what they really want to know.

[Crossposted to Agoraphilia.]

Earlier posts about Emp9 measure:


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is as good a time as any to say what an amazing job you've done with this US News stuff--and this post really takes it to the next level--this is some serious sleuthing. What you're doing is, at least in my view, the best way to affect the influence of US News--make the information as transparent as possible, and then let people use the exposed data at their own risk. Anyway, thank you.

8/20/2007 10:09 PM  
Blogger Tom W. Bell said...

Aw, shucks, Anonymous. Thanks for the kind words. As long as we're in confession mode, allow me to admit that I'm not sure why I bother geeking out on this stuff. It hardly ranks as the sort of scholarship that might help a fellow's career, and it has not yet evidently done much to improve the ways in which law schools get ranked. I'm gratified, though, that you find it worthwhile. Together with my natural obsessiveness, that might suffice to keep me going.

8/21/2007 2:33 AM  
Blogger Anthony Ciolli said...

"Why doesn't USN&WR instead measure full-time employment for which a J.D. is required or preferred?"

I'm not sure that would have an impact here. After all, if a law school has already made the decision to game U.S. News employment measures by hiring its own graduates, then couldn't it simply continue to game the rankings by saying that the "Post-graduate Research Assistant" position requires a J.D.?

8/21/2007 3:38 AM  
Blogger Tom W. Bell said...

That's why I stipulated that USN&WR should require full-time employment, Anthony. That would both help ensure that law grads get decent jobs (schools would at least have to bid against Starbucks and the like) and that law schools don't go overboard in gaming the Emp9 measure.

8/21/2007 12:24 PM  
Blogger Anthony Ciolli said...

I'm still not convinced. I'm not familiar with how these research assistant positions are structured, but I don't see how they can't be restructured to respond to your proposed change. For instance, if research assistants typically work 20 hours a week for two months, the law school could have them work 40 hours a week for one month in order to be "full time."

As for competing with Starbucks, I have a feeling that an unemployed graduate who would accept a research assistant position (whether full-time or part-time) probably doesn't consider Starbucks an acceptable option.

A better way to avoid gaming may involve simply excluding graduates who are working at the school they graduated from, regardless of the position they hold.

8/21/2007 10:41 PM  
Blogger Dale said...

I don't know about what other schools do, but as a Regent Law graduate, I do know that they hire several new graduates every fall to recruit prospective students.

8/22/2007 9:52 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I'm one of those types of grads, though not a recent grad. Igraduated from Catholic University's Law School in 1995. I was immediately employed at a different Law School as a Law Librarian. I already had my Masters in Library Science (MLS) and to move up in academic Law Librarianship, a JD degree is required in addition to the MLS.

I knew from the start I wouldn't be practicing law. I never had an interest in that aspect of the Law. A JD is a versatile degree. People get it for a variety of resons, and many stay in academia in a variety of positions because the employment is far less stressful, and friendly, than any law firm.

8/23/2007 5:47 PM  

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