A 45% employment rate? How law school employment numbers are inflated

By Jack Crittenden:

Paul Campos, a law professor at the University of Colorado, grabbed some attention in late April with a commentary piece in The New Republic that identified the true permanent employment rate for recent graduates at 45% — at best.

There has been a lot written in the past year about law school employment rates and the general consensus is that NALP’s 88.2 percent figure is misleading.

A law student group, Law school Transparency, even emerged with hopes of getting schools to report more detailed data. That effort has failed thus far, and despite Senator Barbara Boxer sticking her nose into the matter, it appears that it is up to the ABA to make change happen.

Campos' article may be the impetus the ABA needs to enact change. He apparently got access to 183 individual NALP forms for one top 50 law school. (University of Colorado is ranked #47 this year). He reported, “fully one-third of those graduates who report they are working in full-time jobs that require a law degree are in temporary, rather than permanent positions.” That, he suggests, would result in a 45 percent employment rate for the class of 2010, with the “overall number likely lower, since it seems probable that the temporary employment figures for the graduates of almost any top 50 school would be better than the average.” He also audited a sample of the responses and found “several instances” where graduates described themselves as permanently employed or full-time when they were not.

Even if Campos’ data is skewed for that one school, it appears that the temporary status information is skewing NALP’s data. Campos points out that NALP collects info on whether a position is temporary or not. But it does not publish that info on a school-by-school basis.

Without question, when the economy is bad, employers shift to temporary employment and away from permanent.

I counsel job seekers and know many who are employed in temporary positions. Those positions are not necessarily bad or poor paying. And a similar trend occurred when I graduated from law school in 1991. But the stakes are higher now – thanks to tuition increases.

Prospective law students and current students would benefit greatly to have the more detailed employment data. The right thing to do, and perhaps the ethical thing, is to share the information. NALP has the data. It sounds like it is time for the ABA to require them to release it.

Jack Crittenden is Editor in Chief of The National Jurist and a graduate of the Washington College of Law at American University.