Legal hiring has contracted during the recession, but the number of students attending law school has not diminished. The central complaint has been that law schools provide insufficient or even misleading data on students’ employment outcomes, failing to separate full-time and part-time work or not taking into account whether graduates are using their degrees.
In several high-profile class action suits, law school graduates, as well as their own lawyers, have argued that the result is a kind of false advertising that leads prospective students to continue pouring into law schools and accumulating hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. So far, the suits have focused on law schools generally considered less prestigious, but even top law schools have responded, with some -- including most recently New York University and the University of Virginia -- releasing more complete employment data than they have in the past. The American Bar Association has said it will require schools to provide more detail in jobs reports as well.
A growing number of blogs have joined the fray, including "Inside the Law School Scam," written by a University of Colorado law professor who wrote in a recent post that "at present ABA law schools are pumping out two graduates for every available legal job, and that the cost of acquiring what jobs there are has gotten far too high. No amount of pedagogical reform by itself is going to change that." And the concern has risen to high levels, including the New York Times, which has explored the plight of recent law graduates in a series of articles. "American legal education is in crisis," the paper editorialized in November.
Among observers, there are concerns that this could lead to "gainful employment" rules for law schools. Two senators, Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, and Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, have requested information on law school data. The next step could be hearings, such as those held in the Education Committee on for-profit education.