Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Depth and Breadth of Misleading Employment Numbers by Law Schools (And How to Solve It)

Brian Tamanaha

It is by now well known that law schools have been posting misleading employment numbers. We get it. Additional reminders of this verge on tiresome redundancy.

But we don't get it. Law professors have no idea how deep and pervasive this practice is (top to bottom). It is still continuing. And the extent of the deception is shocking.

South Texas College of Law, for example, lists in the current US News profile its earnings quartiles for full-time private sector jobs as follows: $75,000 (25th percentile), $92,500 (median), $160,000 (75th percentile). That looks great. However, only 5 percent of the people employed in the private sector provided salary information. What this means is that those numbers represent 18 graduates (at most) out of a class of 376. A savvy prospective student would be able to discern that these salary numbers are extremely unrepresentative (the percent reporting is not indicated in the magazine, but available through subscription). Unsuspecting readers would be fooled into thinking that good money was to be had coming out of this school.

Misleading number reporting is rampant. (I'll get to top schools below.) Here are the schools that post salary numbers on full time private employment with the lowest percent reporting:
South Texas (5 percent)
Florida A & M (9 percent)
St. Mary’s (9 percent)
Mississippi College (10 percent)
Ohio Northern (13 percent)
Roger Williams (13 percent)
Florida International (14 percent)
Tulsa (14 percent)
Thomas Jefferson (17 percent)
Gonzaga (19 percent)
Atlanta’s John Marshall (20 percent)
Touro (21 percent)
U. Detroit Mercy (24 percent)
California Western (25 percent)
Seattle (25 percent)
Stetson (25 percent)
Florida Coastal (28 percent)
New York Law School (28 percent)
Southern Illinois (28 percent)
Cleveland State (29 percent)
Hamline (29 percent)
Loyola Chicago (29 percent)
Southwestern (30 percent)
Widener (30 percent)
Drake (32 percent)
Baltimore (32 percent)
Miami (32 percent)
John Marshall (33 percent)
Pace (33 percent)
Capital (34 percent)
Hofstra (34 percent)
Missouri (34 percent)

The list goes on. Nearly 70 law schools post salary figures taken from half or fewer of the graduates with private full time jobs.

Law schools complain that it is unfair to blame them for low salary reporting rates—it is not their fault, they say, that students do not provide this information.

But that is not the primary explanation for what is going on. Grounds for skepticism lie in the results of the following chart, which plots response rate against law school rank. As with the employment chart posted here, a strong downward drift is evident, with the top schools having uniformly high response rates and the lower ranked schools having lower rates (with exceptions to be mentioned).

Why would this pattern exist? It makes sense that “JD required” employment rates would show this pattern because fewer graduates from lower down schools are getting lawyer jobs. But this chart relates exclusively to graduates who have jobs. In response to the law school’s survey (calls, emails, letters), the graduate says “Yes, employed in a private firm,” but then fails to answer the “How much do you earn?” question. The further one goes down the ranking, the greater the proportion of graduates who do not disclose their salary. Why?

There are two obvious explanations. Greater numbers of students at lower schools are embarrassed to state their earnings. That is a part of it. Another part is that law schools with low reporting rates are not trying very hard to get this information. Salary breakdowns by type of private legal employer are well established, with small firms paying the least (except for high end boutiques) and large firms paying the most. Once law school career services personnel find out the law firm’s identity, they can make a ballpark guess of the graduate’s salary. A law school’s posted salary numbers would be kept higher (and the response rate lower) if the school did not make follow-up inquiries to graduates in small firms or working as solo practitioners.

Lower ranked schools tend to have lower response rates because the numbers are poor (hence the reluctance of graduates provide it) and obtaining the information would harm the school’s salary profile (hence the reluctance of schools to get it). That explains the downward slope. As between these two factors, the reluctance of law schools is the bigger part. (Another possible explanation is inadequate surveying, but it is not plausible to think that the administrations of lower ranked schools are systematically dysfunctional.)

Evidence for allocating most of the blame for low response rates on law schools comes from the outliers. A number of lower ranked schools have relatively high response rates: Texas Southern (97 percent); Charlotte (86 percent); La Verne (85 percent); Texas Wesleyan (84 percent). The performance of these schools shows that even low salaries will be reported in large numbers if an effort is made. There is another way to see this. Compare the disparate performance among several schools ranked 84th (in a tie) by US News: Louisiana State (99 percent) and Arkansas (94 percent) have high response rates, while Seattle (25 percent), Hofstra (34 percent) and Santa Clara (36 percent) have low response rates. The only explanation (aside from sheer incompetence by the latter law schools) for such a great disparity is a lack of enthusiasm on the part of the law school to obtain the salary numbers from all graduates.

This matters because it produces a distorted picture for prospective students who are trying to get a sense, before they make a huge investment of time and money, of what they are likely to earn on the back end. Santa Clara lists stunningly high earnings for its 2009 graduates in full time private jobs: $110,000 (25th percentile); $160,000 (median); $160,000 (75th percentile). These numbers are high not because the class did so well but because the response rate was so low. Indeed it appears that the 2009 class at Santa Clara did poorly when one also considers that (notwithstanding the listed 85 percent employment rate) only 50 percent of the graduates got jobs as lawyers, and 45 percent of these jobs were part time. An educated guess, although I cannot tell for sure, is that the above numbers reflect the earnings of about fifty graduates out of a class of two hundred fifty nine.

The problem is not just that prospective students are unlikely to grasp all of this, but that the actual employment results and earnings for the entire class cannot be reconstructed from the information provided. Law schools with low response rates are hiding the ball under the guise of providing a lot of detailed information. A bunch of law schools are doing this. Seattle and Hofstra have alluringly high salary numbers based on low response rates. Loyola of Chicago looks really good at $108,376 (25th percentile), $112 ,000 (50th percentile), $152,981 (75th percentile), although only 29 percent of the graduates in private full time jobs provided salary information. Numbers like these are bait for the unwary.

New York Law School is a useful example because its dean disclosed in an interview the real numbers behind the veil, allowing us see the size of the gap. NYLS posts dazzling employment numbers in its US News profile: $60,000 (25th percentile), $160,000 (median), $160,000 (75th percentile). Those unbelievably high salaries for graduates from a low ranked school are explained by the 28 percent response rate. When asked about these numbers, Dean Richard Matasar defended them as accurate but he admitted that they are incomplete. More detailed data is provided on the law school website. “In these materials and in our conversations with students and applicants,” Matasar asserted, “we explicitly tell them that most graduates find work in small to medium firms at salaries between $35,000 and $75,000.” These painfully low salary numbers that Matasar says “most” graduates earn are drastically different from the giddily high numbers advertised.

Although he grants that three or four years ago students might have been deceived by the $160,000 figure (a significant admission in itself), that is no longer the case, Matasar asserts. “Students are not stupid and they’re not naïve.”

He is right that most prospective students today, after the recent spate of bad news about law schools, are probably aware that they cannot trust the advertised salary numbers—a sad statement about the diminished credibility of law schools—but that is not an answer to the crucial problem. A person thinking about attending NYLS might realize that the numbers are inflated, without realizing by how much, and without knowing what the true figures are. The information provided on the NYLS employment statistics page on its website nowhere clearly states the range identified by Matasar. Nor does NYLS directly inform its students that only 62 percent of the class of 2009 (nine months after graduation) had obtained jobs as lawyers, and 27 percent of these lawyer jobs were part time. How many people would pay nearly $150,000 in tuition for three years if they were explicitly and clearly provided with this information? It is too late, of course, to communicate this to the incoming crop of students after they arrive.

While the focus above is mostly on lower ranked law schools, problems exist at higher ranked law schools as well, and students going to these schools must make the same hard decisions about return on investment.

The absolute best salary numbers a school can report are $160,000 at each quartile. That is especially enticing because it represents that students throughout the class (at least to the 25 percentile point) are landing top paying jobs, which reduces the necessity to score top grades.

There are thirteen members of the exclusive Triple $160,000 Club. But not all are equal members. Harvard, NYU, and Chicago have 100 percent response rates. Pennsylvania (99 percent) and Columbia (98 percent) are also impressively high. The response rates hold up for Berkeley (95 percent) and Stanford (94 percent), tailing off a bit with Yale (92 percent) and Northwestern (91 percent), and then stretching downward for Virginia (86 percent) and Cornell (86 percent). Two schools have response rates much lower than others in the group: George Washington (75 percent) and Georgetown (69 percent). If we assume that many of the non-responding graduates of these latter two schools did not earn $160,000, a fair assumption, then both fall out of the coveted group, and they would look more like a bunch of schools with a lower 25 percentile salary but higher response rates (Duke, Michigan, Texas, UCLA, Fordham). For that matter, Cornell and Virginia, and even Northwestern and Yale, could easily fall out as well if a significant number of the non-responsive graduates earned below $160,000, and the schools barely hit that number for the 25th percentile with the responses it had.

It gets worse.

We cannot disregard the possibility that all of these numbers all across the board, which are based on self-reporting by the law schools, are puff. In March 2011, Forbes asked Payscale—which has a huge body of employment data from self-provided information by people who want to compare earnings with others similarly situated—to examine its database for the median salaries of recent law graduates from 98 law schools. It had salary information on 8,500 law graduates from these schools working full time in the private sector—90 percent of whom were working as lawyers—within five years of graduation. No law school had a median of $160,000. Columbia graduates topped list with a median salary of $157,000, with Virginia second at $137,000. Median salaries quickly fell away—Yale was 12th at $105,000; G.W. was 22nd at $83,000. Law schools were $30,000, $50,000, $70,000, and more, below their advertised medians. (Mine included.) Sixteen schools—including many with medians listed between $130,000 and $160,000—came in around half of what they claimed. The biggest gap was Seton Hall, with an advertised median of $145,000, but a Payscale median of $64,500.

Strictly speaking, these medians are not directly comparable because the advertised medians I am using are from 2009, whereas the Payscale data search looked at employed law graduates from 2006 to early 2011 (both relate to full time jobs in private employment). Having said that, law schools have tended to list consistent numbers across this five year period.

What could explain such a huge disparity for so many schools? One possible contributing factor is that the layoffs of large numbers of lawyers in the past few years swept away a number of graduates who were previously counted as employed by law schools within nine months of graduation. Another factor is that many graduates voluntarily leave corporate law firms after two to four years, moving to lower paying (less hours-driven) positions. These two explanations, though likely a part of it, would not appear to be sufficient to explain such an earnings chasm across so many schools. Another possible explanation is that the Payscale database has a downward bias that massively under represents true medians. What might produce this is unclear, but there could be some of it at work.

The most obvious explanation is that law schools—including top schools—have been telling whoppers about the salaries of their graduates. The strongest evidence to support this is that 14 of the 98 schools had Payscale medians that are close to their advertised medians—a few thousand dollars below or above. If the database is systematically underreporting medians, for some reason these schools are not affected. They are from all over—University of San Francisco, De Paul, Northeastern, Utah, Penn State, New Mexico, Kansas, Oklahoma, Marquette, Oregon, Louisville, LSU, Buffalo, Maryland. The main characteristic this group has in common (aside from a heavy representation of public schools) is that their advertised medians are not extravagant, between $50,000 and $70,000.

Looking at the schools with the largest disparities, two patterns emerge. The top 15 schools all report a $160,000 median, and further down schools in major legal markets also report $160,000 medians (Santa Clara, Hastings, Brooklyn, Fordham, NYLS, Boston University, Boston College, G.W., Catholic). These patterns suggest that the medians of law schools are not determined in the first instance by the actual salaries of the mid-point of the graduating class, but rather by what their competitors are claiming their median to be. If a school’s peers are claiming a $160,000 median, then that school has the same median (whatever it takes).

Law schools can protest that this skepticism is unwarranted. They can swear by their numbers. But why should anyone believe them. (Just to be clear: I am not accusing law schools of outright fabrication, but of aggressive massaging, like corporations that work the numbers to slightly surpass analysts' earnings forecasts.)

The law school funny number problem is out of control. And it won't stop on its own. Anyone who thinks the fix will come from the current ABA efforts to provide greater transparency is deluded.

There is only one possible solution in the short run. The deans at the top 20 law schools must sit together in a room, agree on the standards, and personally guarantee the veracity of what they report. All the other law schools will follow (or be embarrassed by continuing to post ridiculously implausible salary numbers). This must be done soon, before the next cycle of numbers comes around.

Leadership, collective action, and integrity--that's what we need to end this terrible situation.


Does any law school offer a course in "Truth in Advertising Law"? If not, I wonder why.

I have long wondered about the law school employment numbers ever since I filled out a survey six months after graduation, when I was working in a legal job, but there never was a follow-up survey a year after graduation, when I was not working -- and could not find a permanent legal job for 18 months. Something stank.

Here are two (possibly) easy fixes -- 1) require law schools to have 75% or higher reporting of salaries of graduates in order to get accredited (that would get them cracking on follow-up numbers); or 2) require them to use some kind of statistical sampling to provide accurate numbers.

The legal profession has enough problems with integrity inherent to the profession -- why do law schools have to add to the cultural meme that all lawyers are liars?

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So perhaps you can help me here, you having legal training and all: how is this not fraud?

Here is St. Johns' US News profile listing a $150,000 median salary:

This sounds less believable than most of the examples in your article.


According to the affirmative defenses and PR statements from law schools that have been sued for fraud, a main defense appears to be that the school[s] are complying with the guidelines for consumer publishing put forth by the ABA. Of course they leave out the fact that those ABA committees setting the rules are predominantly comprised of sitting law school deans and administrators.

Pretty clever eh?

Occupy Law School!


Do you know the numbers of applicants at the schools you cited as having high reporting rates and low salaries? It would be interesting to compare them to the number of applicants from similarly situated (that is to say ranked) schools. It would be even more interesting to look at the numbers over time to see if the high reporting of low numbers resulted in any decrease in the numbers of applicants.

a main defense appears to be that the school[s] are complying with the guidelines for consumer publishing put forth by the ABA

And we care because why?

Seriously, someone really buys that defense? No one brings up the point you raise? Why not?

"South Texas College of Law, for example, lists in the current US News profile its earnings quartiles for full-time private sector jobs as follows: $75,000 (25th percentile), $92,500 (median), $160,000 (75th percentile)."

Exactly. Who could look at this and not conclude that South Texas is a good investment, even if it costs $200,000 in student loans.

Pretty much everyone is going to get a good job. Even the $75,000 job is more than enough to pay the $200,000 back, and you could hit the jackpot and make $160k!

But the numbers are complete and total bs. It's blatant and brazen fraud.

Thanks for this post.

Interesting post on prawfsblawg by a doctor reviewing the history of medical schools:

At October 11, 2011 12:31 PM , Chris Johnson said...
I'm struck by some of the parallels with medical education over the past century. Until the Flexner Report of 1910, medical education in America was characterized by a large number of proprietary schools that were run as profitable enterprises by their physician-owners. Not surprisingly, medical practice was characterized by an oversupply of poorly trained physicians. Probably over half of America's physicians did not support themselves through the practice of medicine.

After the Flexner Report, a large number of marginal medical schools closed, and those which stayed open trained better physicians. Meanwhile, the physician supply became more matched to demand, and most folks found a job practicing medicine.

What I don't know is exactly what pressure was brought to bear, and by whom, on the lower tier of medical schools that caused them to close. It wasn't that there were not students willing to pay the tuition.

Comparing this with law schools, it seems that the only thing that would make them close is a dramatic drop in student applicants. What are the real prospects of that?

STCL is my alma mater. I never thought I'd be duped or "scammed" until I read this piece, because I remember looking at similar numbers in 2003 and thinking "this isn't a bad investment" or something like that. Up until now I've always thought of my decision to go to law school as a mistake borne by naivete (first person in family to graduate from college, no lawyers in the family, yada yada yada), but now I'm not so sure. Thanks for this.

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I am curious why you are so dismissive of the idea that students know better than to trust law school salary numbers.

While it is tempting to think law students as rational, that assumption shouldn't hold. Looking to the recent scandal involving San Francisco Law schools rigging of scholarships is enough to show that most law students think they will be in that top 25%, even when they know not all of them can be. A sizable percentage of law school students did very well in undergrad, why would they not believe if they worked hard they could be in the 25% in Law school and make those blockbuster salaries? Also, why would anyone believe these numbers are lies? The dream of a big pay day at the end of the rainbow - not just for greed and materialist goods but to get out of debt and allow their parents to retire and to send their kids to a better school than they went to, with no loans - is what a lot of people are in law school for and that will blind a lot of people from the truth. People still believe in the dream that if you work hard, you will succeed. Such optimism is naive, but to have that optimism exploited feels wrong. Even if students had the ability to see that such salary numbers are lies and the intelligence to know they are facing stiff competition for few jobs, it doesn't matter. Students will simultaneously believe those numbers are real and that their chances at getting those high salaries are better than they are.

If that dream is a myth being "massaged" as truth, it needs to be shattered, not just pointed out, because there is a really really strong desire to believe in that dream. I look forward to the book tour.

Let's see, who is most informed on the numbers, the school or the prospective student?

The notion that it's the student's fault because he believed misleading numbers is mind-bendingly wrong.


I too am for optimism and pursuing dreams, even when sometimes a person is being perhaps optimistic. The only thing I am arguing for is that students should get reliable information when making the choice. If a prospective student considering NYLS, for example, knows that less than half the class got full time private jobs, and most of those who got these jobs earned between $35,000 and $75,000, then I would not be critical of the school. The problem is that students do not get this information.

My desire is not to shatter dreams but to help students make informed choices.

What would be an acceptable response rate? And if there's only a low response rate, is it better for the school to post both the results and the response rate, or to refuse to post statistics?

I'm not entirely clear on where you're getting your numbers from, but it seems like basically everything you cited in this post is publicly available? And if that's true, students have at least some responsibility to know what the numbers mean. These are adults making a choice about their future, not children who deserve to have someone else do all the thinking for them.

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Oh please. A prospective student might very reasonably think "this is a good investment" when he's given data that says it is. It is not his fault when the data is misleading or factually inaccurate.


First of all the numbers are cited clearly, so it's ironic that you write that it's not clear where he got the numbers from, in a post in which you tell students that they should read materials carefully.

Second, please stop replying to every post with "but where do we draw the line." That is a silly response by a 1L who wants to talk in class when he has nothing substantive to add.

More importantly, you don't seem to believe we should have the tort of fraud. If I'm wrong, then can you please provide an example of a situation in which you would find the tort of fraud? If I'm right, and you can't think of any such situation, then you are shockingly out of step with notions of American and indeed human justice, so much that I would characterize you as a corrupt human being. You might want to think about that.

It is not unreasonable to ask what an acceptable response rate would be, given that the decision to report salary is really in the hands of the graduates. Saying that the school should just estimate what the salary should be based on the kind of firm or organization where the graduate works merely leaves open another avenue for saying that potential students are being misled.
If we are going to remain in a regime of reporting, schools should report accurately-- no question. But if the statistics are being taken as something on the order of a contract, the question of what gets reported,and how, has to be taken very seriously. Do you report in years when salary responses come in below a certain percentage? Should there be a disclaimer saying that the numbers are no guarantee of what will happen to the individual prospective student reading them?

"First of all the numbers are cited clearly, so it's ironic that you write that it's not clear where he got the numbers from, in a post in which you tell students that they should read materials carefully."

That's actually not true. In the third paragraph, numbers regarding South Texas are presented, cited to US News. Slightly below that, a chart of numbers for all of the colleges is presented, with a generic cite to (I'm unable to actually locate that data on -- could someone point the way more directly?)

In other places in the post -- for instance, the long list of schools and reporting percentages between paragraphs 4 and 5, the paragraph 4 below the chart, and the paragraph right above "It gets worse", -- it's unclear where the 'percent' reporting stats are coming from: US News, lawschooltransparency, or some other source.

Anyways, the question of where to draw the line is a crucial one. The argument in the original post rests on a premise -- that law schools aren't meeting the standard they should for getting responses to employment surveys -- that's impossible to evaluate without having at least a vague idea what the standard should be.

I'm not trying to hold someone to a specific percentage-point standard. That, I agree, would be ridiculous. But since it's obvious we can't demand 100% reporting, and that 5% reporting is too low, the obvious question is: how much reporting is enough, and how much is that worth?

No reporting or oversight measure is free, and students will likely bear some -- or most -- of the cost of increased transparency. It's foolish to argue for optimization without realizing that the relationship you want to maximize is itself based on many interdependent variables that can't all be individually maximized without affecting each other.

"More importantly, you don't seem to believe we should have the tort of fraud."

This is so far removed from anything I actually said that I don't think it's worth responding to beyond saying that I of course think that fraud should be a tort, and you should reread what I originally wrote.


The schools are lying. They know they are lying.

I know for a fact people at my school actively discouraged publishing the reporting rates.

The ABA and NALP are chock full of deans and administrators that are more locked in to alumni networks and the market than ANYONE else.

This is organized crime. It's mostly because of the easy money (student loans)

They all fucking know. And like all criminals (especially white collar ones), they will deny and play stupid to the bitter end.

I represent criminal defendants and I've worked in major fraud units. This is fraud. Your comment reaks of that blame the victim crap. Go post over at "we are the 53 percent.". You'll feel much more welcome there

I can't explain the tendency to latch onto someone who disagrees with you a little bit and then lash out at them for all the sins of your opponents, but it's clearly common.

This post isn't about fraud and manufactured statistics. The evidence presented is about statistics based on incomplete reporting and that's the only issue I'm addressing.

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I will answer your inquiry on the assumption that your inquiry is a genuine one. The data is from the excel sheets prepared by Law School Transparency for 2009. They have also done 2008 and 2007. They took the information from the US News profiles. US News, in turn, was supplied this information by the law schools themselves. In other words, everything I cite was taken from the law schools.

This does not amount to full disclosure. First, none of the response rates are indicated in the US News issue--you have to pay an additional subscription to get the data on each school. Second, the information on response rates is in a separate section from the salaries reported, and you would have to look for and understand what is being reported to figure this out. Third, the percentage of lawyer jobs is NOT reported--I had to make this calculation using the information provided--so people looking at the information would not know this on their own.

As for your question about response rates, we can say what is too low without specifying a cut off. That's obvious. If you think the numbers provided by South Texas, Santa Clara, and Loyola-Chicago (all set forth in my post) are not misleading, then there is not much more I can say to you.

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"Where do we draw the line."

There's no need to draw any line, because law schools can report exactly what was reported to them, without embellishment, puffery, deceptive presentation or modification of *any* kind. Report what you got in its original form without even 0.01% of a modification.

And again I encourage you not to ever utter the question, "but where do we draw the line" in class lest you want to come across as that students who likes to talk even when he has nothing substantive to add.


I respectfully ask you to again provide one example of a situation that you would consider the occurrence of the tort of fraud. If we are going to have this discussion, I need to know how you process this tort (if you believe it exists at all).

After you provide this example, if you provide it, I will have to ask you to distinguish that fraud from what law schools do when they present 25%/50%/75% percentiles (and percentile is a very well defined statistical term as I'm sure you know) that are complete and total lies because they have no clue about the earnings of 95% of their students.


Thank you for the clarification -- I wasn't looking at the right portion of the LST spreadsheet. I fully agree that the information about response rates should be posted by US News along with the data anywhere they report it, and that law schools should also post it if they put the data up on their own website.

We can say that some things are too low without specifying a cutoff - yes. But I think discussing the cutoff, and the tradeoff in terms of cost vs more complete data is a more, would be more productive. But YMMV.

I am a little bit confused as to why you attribute this possible belief to me, though: "If you think the numbers provided by South Texas, Santa Clara, and Loyola-Chicago (all set forth in my post) are not misleading, then there is not much more I can say to you."

As I specifically said above, I think reporting numbers based on ST's 5% response rate is obviously unacceptable. As for Santa Clara and Loyola, I'd have to see them in their original contexts to judge, though they sound bad from the way you're presenting them.

But other than my misunderstanding about how available the reporting rates were, I haven't suggested that the numbers weren't misleading or that the schools don't have a duty to report more complete data. I've simply suggested that prospective students also have a duty to put effort into gathering and understanding the data that is available, and they don't have necessarily have the right to have the full cost of that data analysis borne by current students.

Citrus7: You're free to think you win if I don't give into your specific demands, but I don't like getting sidetracked into tangents that aren't at all related to what I wrote by angry people commenting anonymously.

Citrus7: I'm not sure what "discussion" we're having, because you're raising points unrelated to what I'm saying. You seem to think that since you think it's worth talking about, I have to devote my time to it. No thank you.

Schools should report information accurately if they are going to report. But is it clear that we know exactly what role the numbers play in the decision to go to law school, and whether the reporting of bad numbers will deter a significant number of people from enrolling? The schools mentioned in the post as having high percentages of reports of salaries, but low salaries, did not seem to lack applicants. For example, according to one source, Texas Wesleyan had 1606 applications for 233 spaces. The school attracted those people while reporting unimpressive salary numbers. Now, for all we know, 500 people looked at the numbers and decided not to apply. We don't know. But we do know that an awful lot of people did apply despite the lackluster salary reports.

Accurate reporting is a must, but to take the next step and predict what this will mean for applications and for law schools is risky. Transparency should exist for its own sake. It seems that it is being oversold, however.


Actually this isn't even a legal issue, it's a mathematical issue that you can opine on without any knowledge of law.

Let's say I'm a scientist doing a study on the length of, oh, a species of organism. There are millions of such organisms on the planet. By virtue of the miracle of statistics I don't need to measure each one of them, because I can use a *random sample*. This might be one of the greatest contributions of statistics to mankind because it allows us to draw conclusions about a large population by only measuring a small percentage of that population.

Let's say I know that only the heavier types of this organism come out into the daylight. Let's say everyone in the scientific field knows this too but that the general public doesn't know this. Let's also add that I have a pecuniary interest in finding that the average organism size is greater than 5 lbs because that will increase demand for my company's goods.

So I choose only the daylight organisms for my random sample. I then publish a study showing the average size of this organism to be 10lbs, and the 25%/50%/75% percentiles to be 9 lbs, 10 lbs and 11 lbs respectively based on a sampling of 1,000 organisms. I disclose the fact that I did not measure all millions of the organism in existence, and rather that I only measured 1,000 of them and that I only measured the ones that came out into the daylight (just like law schools do when they disclose the fact that only x% reported salaries). Based on my study, my stock price goes up and I make a lot of money.

But this study is flawed, because the sample is not representative of the population. So far it's just a matter of incompetence. Drawing a conclusion based on a warped sample is as bad as saying 2+2=5. It's just wrong. But if another scientist connected my pecuniary interest to the unrepresentative sampling, that would be an outrageous scandal that would run me out of the field.

Yet that is *exactly* what law schools do when calculate 25%/50%/75% salaries based on samples that they know are skewed, and in a situation in which they benefit monetarily by using that skewed sample.

The point is that you don't even need to get into the legal issue of fraud to understand why it's wrong. A basic understanding of statistics would suffice.

"But is it clear that we know exactly what role the numbers play in the decision to go to law school"

In my opinion law students are very risk averse, possibly the most risk averse students of any field, and they would run like h*ll if they saw the real numbers. The 1,600 applications you describe would turn into about 50 applications, if that.

I really have no idea who you're talking to any more.


Great analogy. Makes a lot of sense.

Ignore Andrew. He's trolling. And doing a REALLY good job of it I must say.

Even though Professor Tamanaha won't say it (and I fully understand why he won't), his research and data lead to at least a viable civil fraud claim and slam dunk deceit claim.

Professor Tamanaha concluded that it's possible the numbers are "puff." Puffery is generally considered opinion and not actionable. Publishing employment statistics, in my opinion, are not expressions of opinions. They are representations of fact. I don't even think that is debatable.

The only question as to liability is if a student actually relied on published statistics and if that reliance is reasonable. Totally a question of fact.

@ Citrus-- No, the 1606 was achieved with the unimpressive job and salary reported. In this case, according to this post, the school did what it was supposed to do: report the numbers warts and all. They did, and still a good number of people applied.
Again, perhaps people were deterred. But a good number of people applied even with this information in the school's literature.

I wasn't aware that largely agreeing with Brian's writing, while being a bit skeptical and refusing to get drawn into Citrus's random rants, was trolling. But if that's how you want to view it...

EH - I see your point, but I'm not sure the specific example proves much. Data will always have outliers, and using them as evidence isn't reliable.

It is important, though, to consider the costs and benefits of increased transparency. Actual lying is of course unacceptable, but between that and school's just directly releasing the piles of returned questionnaires (which I don't think anyone really wants), there's a lot of middle ground. Things can be done to make reported information more complete (hell, law schools *could* track graduates employment status every three months for 10 years after they graduate...) but there's obviously a point at which more information isn't worth it. While I'm interested in how the lawsuits over claims of overt fraud go, I think the much more interesting (and difficult) debate is going to happen at that margin.


There is no debate whether or not schools are lying. This post, among thousands of others, has proven this. Your comments imply a genuine belief that there is not enough info to come to this conclusion. As a result, you are either 1) a complete moron or 2) a troll. Take your pick.

(a) You have a very odd notion of proof. This post proves that schools are drawing data from incomplete data sets. It raises discrepancies that can lead to a reasonable inference of lying, but that's far from proof.

(b) I haven't been arguing that the schools did or did not lie. I see little point in doing so, since it'll be more productive to see what discovery and legal argument in the lawsuits turn up. Citrus for some reason decided that I was arguing against the accusations of fraud, but if you actually take the time to read what I've written, you'll see that's not true.

Okay option 1 it is. Thanks for clearing it up.

This comment has been removed by the author.


Let's just ignore AMM. Based on his "but where do we draw the line" point and general desire to have the discussion be about him, I think he does all this solely to be the center of attention regardless of the means.


Well, even if honest disclosure doesn't deter students, it would end the "law school scam" debate.

It's amazing that we have to have such long and exhaustive discussions over about 300-400 pieces of paper (the employment surveys), that the schools have in their possession, and that they won't disclose in their unaltered form.

I'm a little bit confused by your lack of reading comprehension, Citrus, since I've never actually talked about any issues regarding fraud...

Night all.


I too am amazed by the fact this discussion lingers on. However, the only way to counter powerful propaganda is with repetition. This is why its worth repeating over and over and over again that schools are lying.

Any student of history knows that you cannot beat monopolistic cartel capitalists at their own game. Especially legal ones. The key is to shame them repeatedly so they are forced to come out behind the ivory curtain and expose themselves. Tamanaha and Campos have been extremely successful and helpful in this regard.

The CYA campaign is being carried as one could predict. I do believe that the ABA's refusal to adopt stronger standards last month was a slip up on their part. The ABA can minimize and defeat LST, students, and pretty much everyone in the profession. Always have, always will.

However, Senators Grassly and Boxer present a unique opportunity to break the cartel. Just need a few more whistle blowers to blow this puppy wide open. Hopefully it will happen soon.


When I think about the decision-making process of students considering grad school or law school, I think aboutthe regulations in real estate law concerning disclosure of terms. The amount of money in a home loan is often similar to or less than the debt incurred through student loans, so the weight of the decision is comparable.

In commercial transactions, disclosures are minimal because all parties are considered to be knowledgeable enough to understand the risks. For residential transactions, however, the disclosures are maximized because one party (the lender) has far more familiarity with the risks involved.

Your data seem to demonstrate that the law schools not only have a better understanding of the risks, but deliberately obscure that risk in order to encourage the applicant to attend.

Some respondents have made the point that students should know better and do their research, rather than burden the schools with the cost of increased transparency. I have to wonder what effect that approach would have had in the housing market; subprime loans had plenty of disclosures, yet brokers and appraisers have taken the brunt of the substantive response to the housing crisis.

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No one has attempted to answer the question I raised in the first comment on this post:

"Does any law school offer a course in "Truth in Advertising Law"? If not, I wonder why."

The direction of comments seems to have drifted, reminding me of a quote attributable to my conlaw Prof. Thomas Reed Powell on “how to ‘think like a lawyer’ (whatever that means):”:

“If you can think of one thing without thinking of something else to which it is inextricably connected, then you have a legal mind.”

Based upon my classroom experience back in the fall of 1952, there’s a tad of tongue in cheek in this.

Now let's get biblical:

"Woe to you teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices -- mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law -- justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel" (Matthew 23:23,24)

Perhaps this applies to law schools and law students end up swallowing a camel.

Trey Smith Blog

Hi Brian,Great post, do you mind if I re-blog this (with full attribution and linking)? I really want to share it with my readers, they would find it very useful.


A fitting passage.


There is a distinction between "greater transparency" and "less intentional deception." The former is about providing more information, and the latter is about not setting out to paint a misleading picture. I mean to point out the latter ("aggressive massaging"). Law schools have a moral responsibility to stop this practice.

I am for greater transparency (as well as halting misleading practices) because I want students to make decisions based upon full information.

While this is a necessary first step, I do not believe this alone will solve the problem. There must be an external mechanism to help discipline (prevent) bad choices. The obvious way to do this is to have federal loan eligibility be tied to likelihood of repayment. For example, if the same standards the DOE now applies to for profit vocational colleges are applied to all law schools, we would see immediate consequences for some schools.


Thank you for the reply above. I understand your call for moderation and transparency but, after ruminating on this for a day or two, must encourage you to consider shattering as a real possibility. I think our objectives are the same, I just believe shattering dreams is a necessary prerequisite to getting to the ideal situation. One needs the negation to reach a synthesis - so maybe this is why I feel the need to write about this and encourage you to not shy away from bringing the hammer.

1st) To bring in outside policing, especially at this time, would be expensive. While I think you have accurately identified the only agency with a pecuniary interest in policing, the DOE would need to be funded to do this and given the gridlock in Washington, the coming Austerity package, and lack of an outside interest group that would "watch the watchmen" so to speak it may fail to live up to what we all seem to agree is a much needed reform. That said, I don't want to discourage you at all from advocating this position because I heartily agree that this would be a very important ideal to shoot for. I am curious what your reactions are to the recent crackdown on for-profit colleges (noting there are obvious differences between law school and for-profit schools - most notably the segments of the population they go after and the lack of any rigorous entry testing which schools compete over) and if you think the huge drop off in enrollment in that sector could be an indicator of what we might see in the Law School community in the future?

2) Shattering (and by shattering I mean taking an aggressive approach that actively seeks to penetrate into the collective conscious of all of those associate with the potential Law School market - students, professors, advisors, lawyers, etc... - and paint a harsh picture of collusion, corruption and fraud in encouraging students to pay outrageous sums of money for a degree that is no longer worth it) allows prospective law school students to "wake up" to the Desert of the Real. Without this jolt, the old ideological framework of "Law School --> Big Firm --> Big Money" will continue to be a holdout wherever the interest of the law school's are most prevalent - in the career services offices of undergraduate universities and the hearts and minds of hopeful parents everywhere. Shattering the dream is only step one to creating the space for objective analysis. If students begin to distrust law school numbers, then law schools will have an incentive to project a real, harsh, truthful analysis of their employment statistics because anything looking good will be distrusted and hopefully those students who are "awake" will know this and distrust them - giving those schools a disadvantage in the law student market. This hermeneutic of suspicion about law school employment and salary figures can set in on perspective law school consumers to force the law school industry to change. At the very least, I believe this is a necessary step in helping students make informed choices.

Lastly, thank you for shining the light, it was dark out there when I was deciding on law schools...

"The obvious way to do this is to have federal loan eligibility be tied to likelihood of repayment. For example, if the same standards the DOE now applies to for profit vocational colleges are applied to all law schools, we would see immediate consequences for some schools."

Based on the way for-profit schools have avoided heat based on the cohort default rate, I think this won't work. Under the new SAFRA law, students can get an economic hardship deferment for up to 3 years post grad. As long as a student doesn't default in the first two years after graduation (a virtual guarantee with deferment rights) the cohort rate will never capture post deferment defaults. This doesn't even take into account the fact that IBR is a virtual default.

There is too much regulatory capture to logically think the DOE can do anything.

The schools cannot police themselves and the ABA is obviously worthless as an enforcer.

WU law student is right. The construct needs to be shattered. The only other solution is to cut off all federal loans for law schools. Since that will never happen, shattering the cartel is the only way real change will occur.

Dan closes with:

"The construct needs to be shattered. The only other solution is to cut off all federal loans for law schools. Since that will never happen, shattering the cartel is the only way real change will occur."

Would "shattering the cartel" benefit consumers, whose interests in my view are paramount? Such "shattering" could result in a proliferation of law schools, including "for profits," resulting in even more lawyers who may lack proper training.

Brian, thanks for the informative article. I lucked out in the law school lottery, but I really wonder whether I would have chosen to go to law school if I'd known the true employment and compensation numbers. Probably not.

I'm a little surprised at all the anger on here aimed at Andrew. His first post raised a good question about the source of Brian's numbers (which was answered), and brought up legitimate concerns about who should bear the cost of increased disclosure and how much potential law students, as a group, need protection.

Instead of name calling, I'd like to address what I think is the weakest part of Andrew's cost argument: I just don't think the cost would be that high. It seems like Law Schools already have much of the information at hand and, if Brian is correct, the failure to collect more information is tied to strategy rather than cost.

Regarding protection, I would guess that the majority of law school applicants view a legal education as an investment. We all give wonderful stories about wanting to do justice, but let's face it: most of us are in it for the money, particularly when you consider just how expensive law school is.

Look at how much we regulate securities and investments. We do that because we believe markets function best when participants have as much accurate information as possible, and we strictly punish those who profit by spreading misinformation. Why wouldn't that model apply to an investment in a legal education?

Why are only private employment salaries reported to begin with? Don't a fair percentage of graduates find public sector jobs that are better than the private offers, if any, they get? If so, those salaries should obviously be reported also.

This also raises another issue. You talk about the percentage of private sector graduates reporting, but the absolute number reproting, and the percenatge of graduates working in the private sector is also important.

For example, you mention some schools where a very high percentage report, but could it be that that's a high percentage of a relatively small number of graduates? That, is, that a big chunk of th eclass ends up in the public sector?

As I said more than a year ago, if law school deans were held to the same standards of honest, full and disclosure as issuers or underwriters of securities, the Federal Bureau of Prisons would be heavily populated by academics.

Apt analogy Mr. Kowalski. By the way, I have seen you comment on other blogs and I appreciate your thoughtful entries.


Are you saying that an unintended consequence of breaking the ABA cartel is that standards will LOWER the standards of the profession?

That's not possible IMO. The ABAs actions literally try to incentivize and legitimize insanely high tuition rates that magically reach a students borrowing capacity at most schools.

The ABA is trying to accredit overseas law schools. Their guidelines for disseminating consumer info attempt to legalize incredibly misleading statements of fact. The list goes on.

Law school wastes a potential lawyers time and money. People only go for the most part because it's required by the ABA to sit for a bar. And they only go to the best one possible because they think it gets them a better job.

If the construct was shattered you could still gatekeeper the profession through licensing authorities. Standards could be raised and debt slavery could be minimized without the ABA

ABA + student loans = the virus.

Huh, my understand was that, unlike medicine where a medical degree is required for a license to practice, in law no law degree was required, just passing the bar. In theory one could (however unlikely) study the law in a library, pass the bar, and set up a practice.

Is this inaccurate?

Perhaps Kiplingers should share some blame here.

Although I suppose they'd just cite their source, and you'd end up tracing that right back to the schools themselves.

But then we might ask Kiplingers what "journalism" means. Does it mean, oh, getting the facts? Or just passing along PR?

Just sayin'.


California, which has over 5,000 law schools it seems, does have very liberal licensing requirements. One can apprentice for 4 years and just pay exam and admin fees (minimal) to practice.

Hopefully more and more people can become aware of the alternative methods to getting a license so they don't have to go via the mainstream/cartel route.

As your last post highlights, it's the mass propaganda that really does most of the cartel's heavy lifting.

Then you have Yale law professors like Somin citing a 1.5 unemployment rate as evidence that we are all just fear mongers.

God bless the internet. Even Yale-covered bullshit gets exposed.

I really enjoyed reading it and I think need to read more on this topic.Thanks

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Huh, my understand was that, unlike medicine where a medical degree is required for a license to practice, in law no law degree was required, just passing the bar. In theory one could (however unlikely) study the law in a library, pass the bar, and set up a practice.

Is this inaccurate?

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