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Jan 26
One law school's transparency.

“These days if you peruse the Internet you can’t help but come across websites from disgruntled law students and new lawyers. . . . Bloggers are complaining about the job market for legal professionals. Some go so far as to call law school a scam. At the same time, some members of the legal community . . . are working together to reach a solution.”

--Anna Stolley Persky, “Are Scambloggers Right About Law School?,” ABA Journal Podcast, 24 Jan. 2011

A couple of weeks ago, the Sunday New York Times ran an article entitled, “Is Law School a Losing Game?” Although it was just the most recent voice in a long series of traditional media and online pieces about the legal job market, it got a lot of attention, what with being the New York Times and all. And it was the first such piece that generated any significant number of inquiries to my office from prospective applicants—amazingly enough, we had not previously seen much interest in any direct way despite the steady drumbeat of the last two years. As a general proposition, we don’t wait to be asked questions that we think applicants and students need to know the answers to, and for many years—long before the legal employment landscape began to get reshaped in the fall of 2008—we have attempted to produce admissions materials that would help paint a clear picture of what sort of career a JD from Michigan Law School might be expected to lead to. And we’ll continue to do that even when the current challenges abate (which some recent indicators suggest is beginning to occur).

But without doubt, the Times piece and the ensuing conversations have been very helpful in educating us about what questions our particular pool of applicants has (many thanks to one prospective in particular who, as a veteran journalist, was able to articulate the inquiries in a way that was enormously clear and useful). One outcome of these colloquies will be seen here in this blog, as I address some basic questions and unpack some frequently seen statistics. Today, two basic introductory points.

First, a very general question that pertains to law schools everywhere: Why does our website, and every other law school’s website, reflect data from 2009 when this is 2011?! Frankly, the offset between graduation and generation of data is frustrating to me, too, because it all gets supremely confusing. Our 2010 graduating class departed the Law School nine months ago. We report employment data to the National Association for Law Placement from nine months after graduation; they allow us a bit of time to compile it, and so it’s due in February—about 10 months after graduation. As soon as we report it to NALP, we also slap it up on our website. For the few months prior to every changeover, admittedly, that prior graduating class’s data starts looking pretty stale.

Second, a special combination general-and-specific question: How is the overall employment rate calculated? NALP and the ABA instruct schools to omit from the equation anyone who is “not looking.” People whose career status is unknown are counted as ¼ employed; in other words, if a school doesn’t know the outcome for four graduates, the assumption is that only one of the four has found a job. So the overall calculation is: total number of graduates, less those who are employed, less those who are continuing their education, less those who aren’t looking for work, less the number of people whose outcome is unknown multiplied by .25, yields total number unemployed; divide that by the total number of graduates less the number who aren’t looking to yield the percent unemployed.

Still with me? For Michigan, our 2009 nine-month employment rate was 99.14%. The total JD graduating class size was 412. Of those, 397 were employed and seven were continuing their education. Four told us they weren’t looking for a job; two were unemployed; and two were people we never succeeded in tracking down. So: (412-397-7-4) – (.25 x 2) = 3.5; 3.5/408 = .86% unemployed, or 99.14% employed.

To me, the obvious follow-up question for this data is: Why on earth would someone be “not looking” for employment? I have been careful not to ask Career Services about the four people in the 2009 class so that I can speak completely hypothetically and not break any confidentiality; my answer will be based on anecdotal data from other years. Some very understandable reasons for not looking are medical. Graduates sometimes have babies, or schedule surgery, around the time of graduation, and in both instances, simply delay looking for work for a considerable period. Similarly, people are sometimes one-half of a pair, and are waiting to see where their partners land before they start looking. Other reasons, more problematic from a career-counseling standpoint, might be best categorized as “discouragement.” Occasionally, people who have a great deal of difficulty finding employment tell us that they don’t want our help and are simply bowing out of the search. Related to that group are the people who get to the end of three years of law school and think, this field just isn’t for me.

Having worked with law students for more than a decade, I am pretty dubious about any institution that claims to have completely eliminated the population of unemployed, not looking, and unknown. Clearly, our mission has to be to minimize those numbers—but realistically, in a group of 400, a couple of people are going to have a very hard time finding a job. That said, prospective law students certainly should be closely scrutinizing the offset between the total number employed and everyone else. If a school is declaring a large number of people unknown or not looking, there’s a concern; even a large number who are continuing education might indicate a problem (whereas a smaller number almost certainly indicates a few people finishing up JD-related dual degrees or, sometimes, specialized tax LLMs). Although most schools don’t explicitly lay out the math behind their figure on their website (and not necessarily for any duplicitous reason—as anyone who has waded through this post might attest, the math does not make riveting reading), it is all available online in the ABA/LSAC Official Guide to Law Schools; Michigan-specific data is available here. (Although—that data is always one year further out of date than what’s on our website, thanks to the exigencies of publishing!)

-Dean Z.
Assistant Dean for Admissions
and Special Counsel for Professional Strategies

1A number of commentators have taken issue with the accuracy and quality of reporting in the piece, but I won’t add my voice to that well-trodden ground; being a gadfly about sloppiness seems beside the point when the issue has been raised in many fora and reflects a clearly valid concern. I will note, however, that the Times did print a correction with regard to one point, in which an unemployed individual was wrongly identified as a Columbia Law grad, and the current online version reflects the correction.

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Comments

Re: One law school's transparency.

I would be interested in knowing what percentage of the students employed are employed in legal jobs; I would also be interested in the proportion that are merely temping and/or working part-time to those who are in assured long term full-time jobs.
 on 1/26/2011 6:37 PM

Follow up about employed grads

Dean Z.,

First of all, thanks for this posting specifically and for your blog in general! Definitely great to see the behind the scenes of the Law School's admissions process.

I am going to ask a question I would bet a lot of your readers are asking themselves: of the graduates employed, how many are employed in the legal sector? Even more, how many are employed in positions for which they are qualified (i.e., no J.D. holders doing paralegal work)?

I am sure most people would assume that if you were smart enough and hard working enough to get admitted to (then graduate from) Michigan, you will likely be able to find SOME TYPE of employment. The question is, however, is the employment you found worth the cost of attendance.

Thanks!
 on 1/26/2011 7:11 PM

typo?

In the fifth paragraph, "Second, the combination...yield the percent of unemployed," after subtracting all the employed, further education students, not seeking, etc., shouldn't it yield the total number unemployed (instead of as written total number employed)?
 on 1/26/2011 9:25 PM

Re: typo?

Right you are!! Fixed.

-Dean Z.
 on 1/26/2011 9:58 PM

Employment rate formula correction

The formula cited here for calculating the employment rate is the one used by US News. NALP and ABA do not to my knowledge provide any guidance to schools about how to calculate and publish their employment rates.
 on 1/27/2011 8:58 AM

Re: Employment rate formula correction

Thanks for making this point!  To be clear:  all three organizations (NALP; ABA; US News—as well as, doubtless, others not named) request the exact same data from us, as listed above.  You are absolutely correct that the formula I explained, leading to the 99.14% employment rate, is the one US News asks us to apply.  But NALP and the ABA both do apply their own formulations, based on the exact same raw data.  For NALP, I now know, the unknown people are simply left out of the calculation; thus, our overall employment rate for NALP in 2009 is 98.5% (397 people employed + 7 people pursuing further education = 404, divided by total class size of 412 less the 2 unknowns, for 410). The ABA omits the unknown people, treats people seeking education separately from those who are unemployed, and rounds any data to the nearest whole number; their calculation, therefore, shows us with 97% (397 divided by 410, rounded up) employed and 2% (7 divided by 410, rounded up) pursuing further education, as well as 0% (2 divided by 410, rounded down) seeking work and 1% (4 divided by 410, rounded down) not seeking work. The slight variations in the way different organizations crunch the exact same data does add a bit to the confusion.

-Dean Z.
 on 1/27/2011 3:31 PM

Employment data

Chiming in with two previous commenters:

"I would be interested in knowing what percentage of the students employed are employed in legal jobs; I would also be interested in the proportion that are merely temping and/or working part-time to those who are in assured long term full-time jobs."

"I am going to ask a question I would bet a lot of your readers are asking themselves: of the graduates employed, how many are employed in the legal sector? Even more, how many are employed in positions for which they are qualified (i.e., no J.D. holders doing paralegal work)?"


It makes me very angry to see law schools summarize their employment situation as, for instance, "98% employed at graduation; average salary 140K."

The average person looks at that, mixes it up with their common presumptions about "lawyers" and "good law schools", pours it into the "thousands of people wouldn't be putting the money down for law school if it were such a disastrous idea!" mold, and ends up with this mental picture:  "You'll almost certainly have a job, and you'll make somewhere from, say, 100K to 180K."

But:
-what percentage of students report anything?
-how many people are employed by the school or in some other holdover job?
-does everyone who reports "employed" also report their salary (or their lack of a salary)?
-is the outcomes data distributed such that an "average" is not misleading?  ("The average person is named Mohammed Chang.")


More fully:

I think part of the criticism is that law schools report "95% employed!" and prospective students (maybe less now than a few years ago) naturally assume that these are people working as lawyers.  And not just as lawyers, but as lawyers making tons of money (people assume this is generally true of lawyers) such that their loans are insignificant.  (My own father was shocked when I mentioned the situation demonstrated by the notorious "it's a bimodal distribution so stop quoting averages" graph: If you're not making 160K with BigLaw, you're probably making something like 50K, which is just barely above what you get straight out of undergrad.  "Huh?  *Attorneys* getting paid 50K?")  Which leads one to think, "Well, I might make 50K, but I'll get to work for the public interest."  From what I hear ... no.  You'll make much less than that, but more crucially, there's a very good chance you'll be outcompeted for public interest spots, too, especially where such organizations do not share BigLaw's peculiar fetish for recent graduates.  You might end up with the worst of both worlds: BigLaw hours and stress for a tiny fraction of BigLaw pay.

That said, I agree that it would probably be irresponsible for Michigan to report LST-grade statistics, in terms of the prestige hit it would take.  So long as other schools can profit from the erroneous assumptions of applicants, anyway.  I wish the ABA would do something.

Full disclosure:  I'm a Michigan student and I'm doing fine job-wise.
 on 2/1/2011 5:15 PM

typo (and comment)

The post states, "3.5/408 = .0086%." Not so. 3.5/408=0.0086=0.86%.

Also, I think being transparent regarding class of '09 data misses the point. The class of '09 did OCI in 2007, during the height of the boom times. In fact, the 10 year high of the S&P 500 occurred in the middle of their OCI interview season. Statistically, class of 2011 had it the worst (see link below). I suppose the information for this class will be out by March 2013, when the data is obscured by obvious signs of recovery?

http://amlawdaily.typepad.com/amlawdaily/2010/07/summer-associates.html

 on 2/9/2011 12:11 AM

comment correction..

I just submitted a comment that mistakenly said that the class of 2011 data should be posted in March 2013. I meant to say 2012, since the data is posted "about 10 months after graduation." Even still, I think the last sentence of my comment was unfair, since I neglected the fact that Michigan will presumably release some class of 2011 data soon, on this page: http://www.law.umich.edu/careers/factsandstats/Pages/2Lstats.aspx . So, strike the last sentence of my comment.
 on 2/9/2011 12:48 AM

Re: typo (and quick comment) and comment correction

Thanks for the typo correction—right you are! Someday I’ll get through a post listing all these ## and not make a mistake….

Unfortunately, we can’t edit comments, so I can’t omit the last sentence of your first submission.  But just to be clear: while it’s absolutely true that the class of 2009 was affected less by the economy than were the classes of 2010 and 2011 (which is not to say that 2009 wasn’t affected at all), I’m not focusing on 2009 because those data are better than 2010—I’m doing it because 2009 is all I have right now.  We’ll have 2010 available soon, and we’ll certainly be updating our website promptly. Don’t succumb to low-brow cynicism!

Finally, although projections were that 2011 would be the class hardest hit by the economy, developments this fall suggest that might not in fact be the case. We’re definitely seeing some signs of strengthening. Mid-year comparisons are very tricky to be confident about because even small fluctuations in the percentage of people reporting at different times of the year can have a big effect on apparent results, though, so I am leery about making any grand pronouncement on that score.

-Dean Z.
 on 2/9/2011 10:50 AM

Avoidance of the main issue

I think much more important than correcting statistical miscalculations is addressing the very important question of whether these "employed" graduates are actually in careers that make use of their J.D., and I'm disappointed to see that the Dean has not addressed any of these comments, instead overlooking them in favor of simple typo questions.

Please address this issue. I've been admitted to Michigan, offered a large scholarship, and need to see some good faith that the hard questions will be answered. Otherwise, the Midwest simply won't be worth the effort and I'll pay more to go to Columbia.
 on 2/15/2011 1:13 PM

Re: Avoidance of the main issue

Hold on there, cowboy!  Please see Feb. 2 post, Lawyers, [no] guns, and money—paragraph 3 and following.  The discussion in that post about jobs for which JDs are required and preferred was intended to address those comments/question in great detail.  It is my general practice to respond directly to comments only when the response is quite brief and simple, but for a larger discussion, to devote a post to the relevant question--which may or may not be able to happen as quickly as I might want, what with the day job and all…. For that reason, I would strongly encourage you, or any admitted student, with pressing questions on particular topics to contact my office directly so that we can communicate individually about specific concerns.  This blog can only ever be a poor substitute for the much more effective one-on-one interactions that my Office devotes so much time to.  If my Feb. 2 post doesn’t address this question to the degree you had hoped, please follow up and let me know.
 
I want to point out a fallacy, though, in what appears to be an assumption underlying your comment:  the contraction in legal employment has been nationwide, and  not at all centered in the Midwest. In fact, the worst-hit cities were New York along with San Francisco, because of their reliance on the financial markets. 

Bottom-line, though: you’re absolutely right that you need to be confident that any school you’re considering is addressing these questions.  But don’t assume there’s any school out there that has been immune from the challenges of the last two years.

-Dean Z.
 on 2/16/2011 8:17 AM

jstreby003@comcast.net

I didn't go to Michigan Law School but I am appalled at the commercialization of the law school business, and agree that meaningful information about employment rates, income, etc. is needed.   It is essential that the questions be properly framed; for example, a new lawyer who signs on with a law firm and is paid a "draw" which will only continue if he/she generates revenues, usually on his/her own, is not really "employed" in the usual sense of the word, but is actually self-employed.  If you're really "employed" as that term is normally used, the work is provided by the employer.  Likewise, those whose workload consists of 90% court-appointed cases cannot claim to be "employed" by the state or county; rather, they are independent contractors who are self-employed.  Another flaw in many surveys and reports is the loose definition of "income" without distinguishing between gross income before overhead is paid, and net before-tax income or "profit."  I can already see from the Law School Transparency website that many law schools are finding a lot of excuses to not cooperate and encourage the work of that valuable organization, but those who build a better mousetrap have always had to overcome many obstacles, primarily the monopoly held by those whose products are inferior.  As much as I respect LST, I am afraid that the reality is that only the ABA, with its prestige and vast infrastructure, can fill the void.  One last comment:  any survey results should indicate the number of non-responses, as that is very significant in assessing the reliability of the survey.  Self-selecting survey results are suspect for the simple reason that those whose responses would be considered desirable are more likely to take the time to respond than those reporting bad news.
 on 3/8/2011 6:20 AM

Zero

There is a zero percent chance that these statistics are accurate.

Zero.
 on 8/26/2011 10:23 AM

Pretty Bold Statement, Mr. Zero

As a current Mich law 3L, for whatever it's worth, I can say that the survey is not an example of the OCI "winners" supplying all the responses. A lot of work was done by the administration to get candid feedback from the entire 2L class. Relevant student groups like the Organization of Public Interest Students subsequently campaigned their members to complete the survey so their stories would be heard too. Moreover, the proof is in the pudding, so to say-- largely because of the survey, the former Office of Career Services has undergone a major overhaul-- and is now the Office of Career Planning replete with additional staff, reorganized office structure, a new website, and soon will be housed in new facilities.

But if the concern is that the law school is just reporting false data, nobody can disprove your conspiracy theory. You should come to campus and talk with some students.
 on 8/30/2011 11:45 AM

I reiterate, Zero.

 on 4/2/2012 11:22 AM

Dean Z. responds--

Professor Campos is positing hypotheses; I am discussing actual data. While it may be futile to try to rebut vague charges that our data are inaccurate, I hope that when enhanced data are made live on our website (an enormous, long-running project that should be wrapped up within a day or two), there will be sufficient detail shown to satisfy more open-minded doubters. Certainly, I think our record of transparency has already been established beyond that of virtually all other law schools, but the deep-seated cynicism that has understandably developed in the last few years means we must, and will,  keep endeavoring to do more.

-Dean Z.
 on 4/2/2012 1:05 PM