What to do about misleading data

In the world of logic, we know that if both Villanova University and University of Illinois reported inflated LSAT and GPA numbers to U.S. News & World Report, then there are other schools who have also played fast and loose with their data.

Its all part of the rankings race that we wrote about last March. And many in legal education suspect that there are other culprits, just by looking at their data.

Whether it is fair or not, the integrity of legal education as a whole has been called into question by these incidents. The growing circus that we have dubbed the “employment data debate” only makes legal education seem even more dishonest.

While it is less likely that schools are reporting false employment data, given NALP’s involvement in the collection of the data, critics have cast doubt on the integrity of the data collection process itself.

All of this has been a public relations nightmare for an industry that is supposed to train lawyers to be ethical. The result has been a sharp drop off in admitted students — 9.9% — and an even greater decline in LSAT registrations.

The American Bar Association must now take action. It already decided over the summer to improve data collection and do it on its own – instead of using NALP. But while the ABA may have good intentions, if it acts alone it will not quell the furor.

Instead of pushing away NALP, the ABA should be asking them to take a greater role in employment data collection. While criticized much in the blogosphere, NALP’s primary problem has not been with data collection, but with public relations. Law schools have misused data, and NALP has taken the fall for it.

An ABA-NALP partnership, properly explained and structured, would bring the greatest level of accountability — ensuring the most accurate data. It would also be the most efficient use of resources.

As for LSAT and GPA, the LSAC has already announced that it is seeking a similar role in being a guardian of data. They have said it will not be an easy task to match admitted students to applicants. But it is time for these organizations to work together for the best of legal education.

A cooperative effort by all three organizations will go a long way to re-establishing trust among the general populace. The blogs will still gripe and talk of conspiracies. But the real problem — schools that mislead and lie — will be rooted out. And in the world of logic, when law schools are actually reporting accurate and reliable data, mistrust will eventually abate.