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Law Schools Resist New ABA Guidelines on Job Definitions
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The ABA has proposed stricter guidelines on what constitutes a “job” for law school employment statistics. Fearful that these guidelines will hurt their numbers, many law schools are fighting back.

Summary: The ABA has proposed stricter guidelines on what constitutes a “job” for law school employment statistics. Fearful that these guidelines will hurt their numbers, many law schools are fighting back.

According to the Wall Street Journal, many law schools are arguing with the American Bar Association as to what counts as a “job.”


Some schools have paid for their graduates to work at nonprofit and government organizations until they find permanent employment. These positions help the schools improve their employment numbers, which are heavily considered in national rankings. However, these numbers may not mean as much to students who want to fully utilize their degrees.

Rutgers-Newark Law School created a fellowship for its students.

The American Bar Association’s accrediting arm is cracking down on how these jobs are counting. This spring, the ABA told schools that fellowships would have to be reported separately from other jobs found on the market. Now, the ABA has proposed that these jobs will not even count unless they will last at least a year and will pay an annual salary of at least $40,000. Otherwise, they will be noted as short-term jobs.

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On Friday, ABA accreditors will meet in Chicago to discuss the proposal.

The discussions reflect the increasing tension between schools, students and accreditation authorities after the legal job market suffered major losses. The employment rate has dropped to 86.7 percent for the class of 2014. The class of 2007 enjoyed an employment rate of close to 92 percent, according to the National Association for Law Placement. Students are not enthusiastic about spending $100,000 or more for a legal education if they may not even be able to find work.

Since enrollment has declined at law schools across the country, they must fight each other for students.

School-funded positions make up 3.2% of full-time, long-term legal jobs for the class of 2014. The previous year, they comprised 2.9% of such jobs. Most of these positions come from 25 law schools.

Emory University School of Law funded 52 of these jobs for the class of 2014, which accounted for 23% of the 224 full-time, long-term legal positions the class secured.

In a comment letter to the ABA, Emory’s dean, Robert Schapiro, said that the new proposals seem to be “driven by a desire” to label the bridge-to-practice jobs as “bad” jobs versus “good” jobs. The ABA should not “place subjective value judgments on differing employment opportunities,” the letter added.

Last year, $10 million was donated to Harvard Law for fellowships.

Christopher Pietruszkiewicz, the chair of the ABA committee that came up with these new changes, said that the group’s goal is to provide both current and prospective students with accurate data, not to assess the value of these positions.

In the class of 2014, the ABA noted that close to 60 percent found full-time, long-term employment that required a law license. Approximately 11.2 percent found full-time, long-term positions that preferred a legal degree.

Pietruszkiewicz, who is also the dean of Stetson University College of Law in Florida, said that the rules were reevaluated because it believed that the way some school-funded jobs were categorized was misleading to potential applicants.

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The committee set the $40,000 minimum in hopes that undesirable positions that students will not want in the long term will be weeded out. Most school-funded positions pay stipends that average between $12,000 to $28,860 per year, according to the NALP.

Patrick Boyle, a graduate of the USC Gould School of Law, accepted school funding to work with the Arizona attorney general’s office in Phoenix. The $2,000 per month stipend is tough to live on, Boyle said, but it “let [him] get in the door” at a place he would not have been hired otherwise. He noted that government organizations “don’t really want to subsidize training if they don’t have to.”

Law schools are concerned about how these job positions will impact their rankings in the U.S. News & World Report. These rankings affect their attractiveness to potential students. Since applicant numbers have declined 36.6% in the past four years, these rankings are more important than ever.

Hastings College of Law saw success in its fellowships’ first year in 2013.

Martin Katz, the dean of University of Denver Sturm College of Law, said, “One of the reasons law schools do this is to help their numbers.” The jobs do help students learn the law and gain work experience while providing an employee to organizations with tight budgets. However, if the jobs do not count as full-time employment anymore, “schools are going to be less inclined to do this,” Katz remarked.

Denver Law funded 32 positions in 2014, but only two were full-time, long-term legal jobs.

Robert Morse, the chief data strategist at U.S. News, said that he no longer gives school-funded positions the same weight as a job a student found on the open market.

James Leipold, the executive director at the NALP, said the battle represents the stress on legal education right now. “It’s the survival of the fittest, it’s a bloody arena. Law schools are battling for a diminishing number of students.”

Source: Wall Street Journal

Photo credit: Bloomberg





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