preLaw - Winter 2011 - 8
The problem with law school
Two students are working overtime to change the way law schools report their job placement data. And they were unwittingly supported by a hunger striker over the summer. But despite all the effort, change may be slow in coming.
BY JACK CRITTENDEN ozens of bloggers over the past year have been accusing law schools of “fraud and misrepresentation” over legal employment placement numbers. While most in legal education say these bloggers represent a “very unhappy minority,” few doubt there are problems. “Prospective law students need better information about the legal marketplace,” said William Henderson, a law professor at Indiana University Mauer School of Law. “Law school brochures are filled with glossy pictures of alumni at large law firms. Many law schools fail to provide the complete picture of what their graduates do and how much they earn.” Last year two Vanderbilt law students started an effort — Law School Transparency — to collect more accurate employment data from law schools. The students, Patrick Lynch and Kyle McEntee, unveiled their plans to schools this summer. In August, another recent graduate, Zenovia Evans, waged a nearly month-long hunger strike to support their cause. While her strike was ridiculed, her action shows just how deep the anger and frustration has grown. The jury is out on whether Law School Transparency’s efforts will succeed. But most agree that it has added to an overall conversation among professors and deans on the matter. In August, Brian Tamanaha, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, wrote a wake-up call to his peers. “Law professors know there is a problem,” Tamanaha said. “We see students. We know about the heavy debt burdens. I am just the guy who wrote about this one afternoon to prompt some collective 8
photo by michael bunch
Vanderbilt Law School students Kyle McEntee (right) and Patrick Lynch started the non-profit Law School Transparency in an effort to help prospective law students gain a clear look at law school data to make informed, educated decisions.
conversation.” The conversation may be making some progress. The American Bar Association accreditation committee has announced that as part of an overall review of its standards, it will look closely at employment data.
The data men
Patrick Lynch first met Kyle McEntee when he was a first year at Vanderbilt Law School, and McEntee a prospective student. Lynch was helping the school reach out to prospective students through dis-
cussion boards when he realized there was salary discrepancy that made his school look less attractive. Vanderbilt’s response was to release a list that provided actual employer names and locations for 90 percent of the class of 2007. McEntee then compared the data with National Association for Law Placement (NALP) figures for firm salaries and derived a more meaningful median salary for the law school. Based on that, he chose to attend Vanderbilt, and once he got to campus, connected with Lynch. The two decided that every law school should follow a simi-