A Fresh Start
Much has been written about how law schools, NALP, and U.S. News calculate various metrics, especially the "employment rate." Much has also been written about rankings and their impact on the law school space. Rankings are powerful because they are easy to digest, which also happens to be a major weakness. With the LST Reports, we strike a balance between ease of use and utility by organizing your experience around employment rates. After all, just about every prospective law student asks whether they will get a job after they complete their degree, whether that job will be one that they want, and whether opportunity and real costs make attending law school worthwhile.
Predictably, different employment rate methodologies rely on different operating principles (i.e., judgments) and produce different results. For example, sometimes the advertised "employment rate" is the total number of graduates employed divided by the total number of graduates. Other times the employed figure is divided into the total number of graduates with a known employment status. If a school has 100 graduates—10 graduates for whom no employment status is known and 70 employed graduates—these two methodologies produce 70% and 78% respectively.
This, among other things, makes comparing across platforms challenging and frustrating. To lessen the burden, we collect various employment, financial, and admissions data from a number of sources. From the raw data, we allow readers to make apples-to-apples comparisons. This fresh start lets us use our expertise to help students make more informed decisions.
The LST Reports
Together, our reports help prospective students make informed law school application and enrollment decisions. They are a collection of user-friendly tools for sorting law school employment outcomes, projected costs, and admissions stats. The goal is to help prospective students understand which schools, if any, can help them achieve various career objectives. While we provide many ways for you to compare schools, we encourage you to focus on the state reports first. The state reports separate schools based on observable geographic relationships. After all, law schools generally place graduates in relatively concentrated geographic locations.
State Reports. Each state report includes a list of schools (and accompanying data) that we generate by examining the number of graduates the school placed in that state. A school makes the list only when it meets the minimum threshold—5% of all graduates. Available here.
National Reports. These allow users to compare consumer data across all law schools. National reports are interesting and can help put various statistics in context; however, they should not be used like rankings. Available here.
School Profiles. These are school reports that provide school-specific consumer data. Available here.
Head-to-Head. You determine which schools you want to compare on selected factors. Available here.
Other Tools. While not a part of the LST Reports, we offer a variety of other tools that you can browse to better understand your decision to attend law school. A list of these projects can be found here.
Scores vs. Rates
Scores and rates are percentages related to employment, whether the percent employed in a state, in a type of job, or by a type of employer. Every time we (or anybody else) use a score or rate, we exercise judgment. The difference between a score and a rate is the amount of judgment that goes into calculating the figure. A rate is a definitional determination. The name of the rate comes from the numerator, which is then divided into the number of graduates.
Pay special attention to the two LST scores: the Employment Score and Under-Employment Score. Together, the trio provides a starting point for analyzing the schools on your radar. As with other scores, we add/subtract various categories to produce a number we believe matters to readers. For example, the Employment Score is a proxy for a successful start to a legal career. We have tried to create scores that give a number that is both useful and relevant to the widest selection of prospective students, but we also recognize that different people will group outcomes differently.
In the next two sections we discuss these two scores—what judgments have we made and what other directions could we have taken. For a visual aid, click here.
The Employment Score
We want our Employment Score to have value for the majority of prospective law students, so we start with the conventional assumption that the bulk of people attend law school aiming to pursue a career practicing law. As such, the Employment Score reflects employment outcomes that proxy a successful start to a legal career. This is not a measurement of whether the graduate is in a position to repay his or her debt, or whether the outcomes justify the cost of attendance. Further, it is not measurement of the preferability of job outcomes. The score is about practicing law and becoming a member of the profession, and doing so in more than a nominal sense.
(Bar Passage Required – Part-Time Jobs – Short-Term Jobs – Solo Practitioners) / All Graduates
1. Start with jobs that require bar passage. This is the intuitive starting point, since people in these jobs are known to be engaged in the practice of law or clerking in judicial chambers.
Employed – Bar Passage Required
A position in this category requires the graduate to pass a bar exam and to be licensed to practice law in one or more jurisdictions. The positions that have such a requirement are varied and include, for example, positions in law firms, business, or government. However, not all positions in law firms, business, or government require bar passage; for example, a paralegal position would not. Positions that require the graduate to pass a bar exam and be licensed after beginning employment in order to retain the position are included in this category. Judicial clerkships are also included in this category, although these clerkships do not technically require a law license.
2. Remove graduates in Part-Time positions. These graduates are underemployed, as explained in the Under-Employment Score section.
A part-time position is one in which the graduate works less than 35 hours per week.Full-Time
A full-time position is one in which the graduate works a minimum of 35 hours per week.
3. Remove graduates in Short-Term positions. These graduates are underemployed, as explained in the Under-Employment Score section.
A short-term position is one that has a definite term of less than one year. Thus, a clerkship that has a definite term of one year or more is not a short-term position. It also includes a position that is of an indefinite length if that position is not reasonably expected to last for one year or more. A position that is envisioned by the graduate and the employer to extend for one year or more is not a short-term position even though it is conditioned on bar passage and licensure. Thus, a long-term position that is conditioned on passing the bar exam by a certain date does not become a short-term position because of the condition.Long-Term
A long-term position is one that does not have a definite or indefinite term of less than one year. It may have a definite length of time as long as the time is one year or longer. It may also have an indefinite length as long as it is expected to last one year or more. The possibility that a short-term position may evolve into a long-term position does not make the position a long-term position.
Note: Jobs that are both short-term and part-time have only been deducted once.
4. Remove Solo Practitioners. We exclude these from the score because starting a sustainable practice shortly after graduating law school is unlikely. This is not to say it is impossible, but we do not know enough about their successes to include it. We do know that these jobs do not come with benefits and that solo practitioners struggle with fee collection, especially early on; thus, these positions have low to no income to start out, in addition to the capital costs required to hang a shingle.
Law Firm – Solo Practice
The category of "solo practice" applies to a graduate who has truly established his or her own solo practice. It does not apply to a graduate who is unemployed, but who may be willing to take an occasional client while still seeking employment.
Note: Solo practitioners that are either short-term or part-time have already been deducted.
5. Divide by the total number of J.D. graduates. The result (a percentage) is the Employment Score.
Note: Employment Scores for the classes of 2011 through 2014 include school-funded jobs in the numerator. For the class of 2015, the ABA changed how these jobs were categorized.
1. Alternative Careers
There are certainly people who attend law school with other aims, and they may find desirable work outside of the practice of law. By not including these jobs we are not saying they are bad jobs, only that they are not jobs in the practice of law.
For people interested specifically in a non-legal career, including these jobs in the Employment Score would not make the score more meaningful. Such a mixed score would be determined primarily by legal job placements, and as such a mixed legal/non-legal score does not really tell prospective students about alternative job placement. For people interested in only a legal career, the addition of non-legal jobs greatly depreciates the value of the score by including a number of jobs they are not interested in.
The only group that would be well served by a mixed score is a group who would be okay with pretty much any (professional) job upon graduation. While there may be some third-year students and recent graduates scrambling for any job they can obtain, we believe few people have such an attitude before entering law school. Further, this group needs only to add the Employment Score with whatever other job classifications they find satisfactory. We feel it is easier to add in additional numbers than to try to slice our score apart to find the sector they are interested in.
2. Solo Practitioners
We chose to exclude solo practitioners from the score for much the same reason as we exclude people taking non-legal jobs. Including solo practitioners makes the score less meaningful for people who are planning to seek traditional employment practicing law. At the same time, including solo practitioners would not make the score more valuable for people who plan to have a solo practice upon passing the bar—employment rates are not terribly meaningful to people planning to be self-employed.
However, solo practitioners may represent opportunities lost for law schools in terms of people who could have been counted in the Employment Score, but self-selected into solo practice. Schools may object because self-selection away from other jobs into solo practice reduces how well the score reflects a school's opportunities. Yet, we submit that people are far more likely to open a solo practice when they do not have other opportunities. If a school prides and sells itself on its ability to incubate solo practitioners, it ought to find another way to prove its graduates are different. We would like to think schools in this category would want to do this.
3. School-Funded Jobs
A position is law school or university funded if the law school or the university of which it is a part pays the salary of the graduate directly or indirectly and in any amount. Thus, a person employed by the law school in the law library or as a research assistant, research "fellow," or clinic staff attorney has a law school funded position. Similarly, if the position is in the university's library, the position is university funded.
The position is funded directly if the graduate is on the payroll of the law school or the university. The position is funded indirectly if the law school or the university funds another entity in any way and in any amount to pay the salary. The position is also funded indirectly if it is paid through funds solicited from or donated by an outside supporter. Thus, a position in the law library is funded directly by the law school. A position in a legal services office or a law firm that is funded in any amount by the law school is funded indirectly by the law school.
School-funded jobs present an interesting issue for any measurement of employment outcomes because they can span a range of jobs from the desirable to the illusory. On one end are year-long, full-time appointments in jobs that involve substantive legal work, provide valuable experience, and genuinely advance a recent graduate's career. Jobs like this are actually not included in the ABA's "School Funded" category if they pay at least $40,000 per year and both parties intend the job to last that year, as opposed to it being a stopgap. Jobs like these, assuming they require bar passage, actually count in the Employment Score because they are in the "Bar Passage Required" category. On the other end are part-time positions that last only a short time and are timed to coincide with the ten-month employment survey.
1. Judicial Clerkships
Although graduates taking clerkships are not engaged in the practice of law, these jobs count as "Bar Passage Required," and even though they have a definite duration, they count as long-term employment. The reason for treating clerkships this way is that they have long been understood as competitive and leave the graduate with strong career options post-clerkship. Indeed, some judicial clerks receive offers during law school to work at a firm once the clerkship is complete. It is worth noting that there are insufficient published data to support the common understanding of post-clerkship employment, and some anecdotal evidence suggests that even graduates in prestigious one-year federal clerkships are having trouble finding gainful employment these days.
However, at this time we have decided to hold with conventional wisdom on the matter. This is despite the precarious employment situation that results from a clerkship's definitive end date. (In fact, this point applies to our inclusion in the Employment Score of any graduate with a long-term, legal job that has a definite instead of indefinite duration.) At least these jobs grant the graduate an extra year to search for permanent employment. Additionally, the clerkship experience should aid the law graduate in his or her job search, which the graduate can undertake in the open and with immense job security.
2. Law Firm – 2-10 Attorneys
Calling this debatable is an overstatement, but it warrants discussion nevertheless because there is a certain amount of skepticism about these jobs. To start, if a group of recent graduates band together to start their own firm, each counts in this category instead of as a solo practitioner. What causes us to exclude solo practitioners, then, would also cause us to exclude this segment of the 2-10 Attorney category. But, because we do not have adequate data to support an assumption that a certain percentage of attorneys in this group should be excluded, and generally disfavor internalizing estimations, we do not make any adjustments to the Employment Score using this category. We do caution Score Reports users to pay attention to the salary response rates for this category as it provides some insight (albeit imperfect) into how these graduates are faring.
The Under-Employment Score
Our Under-Employment Score represents graduates who are underusing their skills and credentials. These graduates have not started a professional career, legal or otherwise. It is composed of unemployed graduates seeking work, those in any part-time or short-term job, those in non-professional jobs, those pursuing another advanced degree, and those in school-funded jobs that do not qualify as long-term, full-time bar passage required, J.D. advantage, or professional. Again, what follows is the step-by-step process of creating the score, as well as the relevant ABA definitions.
(Unemployed – Not Seeking + Short-Term Jobs + Part-Time Jobs + Non-Professional Jobs + Pursuing Another Degree + School-Funded) / All Graduates
1. Start with unemployed graduates.
Unemployed – Start Date Deferred
The graduate has accepted a written offer of employment by the reporting date, but the start date of the employment is subsequent to that date. In order to qualify in this category, the start date must be identified with certainty, or the employer must be compensating the graduate until actual employment begins.
Unemployed – Not Seeking
As of the reporting date, the graduate is "not seeking" employment outside the home and is not employed. Graduates who are not seeking employment because of health, family, religious, or personal reasons are included. A graduate who is performing volunteer work and is not seeking employment is included. Also included is a graduate who is offered a position, turned it down, and is not seeking further employment as of the reporting date.
Unemployed – Seeking
As of the reporting date, the graduate is "seeking" employment but is not employed. A graduate who is performing volunteer work and is seeking employment is included. Also included is a graduate who is offered a position, turned it down, and is seeking another position as of the reporting date. A graduate who is studying for the bar exam and is not employed as of reporting date, is considered to be seeking employment unless classification of the graduate as "not seeking" can genuinely be supported by the graduate's particular circumstances. A graduate who is employed as of the reporting date but seeking another job should be reported in an employed category.
2. Remove unemployed graduates for whom their start date is after the reporting date. We do not know enough about these graduates' career paths, except that they have something lined up, to consider them underemployed.
3. Remove unemployed graduates who are not seeking work. They are not wholly attached to the labor force.
4. Add graduates in Short-Term and Part-Time positions. These jobs fall within the common usage of the term "underemployment." We further believe that such underemployment is accurately described as less than a successful start to a career. Some of these jobs may eventually lead to long-term, full-time employment, but the transition is difficult.
Note: we do not add a graduate with a part-time, short-term job twice.
5. Add graduates in Non-Professional positions. These jobs are not part of a career path.
Employed – Non-Professional
A position in this category is one that does not require any special professional skills or training.
Note: we do not add a graduate working in a non-professional capacity twice.
6. Add graduates enrolled in advanced degree programs. These graduates have not yet started a professional career, but are instead in the process of acquiring further credentials.
Pursuing Graduate Degree Full Time
The graduate is pursuing further graduate education as of the reporting date. Such academic programs include degree-granting and non-degree granting programs. Whether a graduate is enrolled full time is determined by the definition of full time given by the school and program in which the graduate is enrolled.
7. Add graduates employed in school-funded jobs.
8. Divide by the total number of J.D. graduates. The result (a percentage) is the Under-Employment Score.
People seeking an additional advanced degree span a wide range of scenarios. Some graduates are in highly competitive Ph.D. or S.J.D. programs and will later gain a coveted tenure-track professorship. Others are merely waiting out a bad job market by spending another year in school, or hoping to enhance a degree that has proven insufficient for finding suitable work. Regardless of what drives graduates to pursue further education, people seeking an additional degree have not yet started a full-time, professional career any more than someone who just started law school has become a lawyer. Unlike those in the "not seeking" category, these people's removal from the job force has more to do with insufficient credentials rather than personal reasons. For whatever reason, despite a J.D. in hand, they find that they are not ready to seek employment.
Unemployed – Not Seeking
Though graduates in this category are unemployed, they are unemployed in a way that makes their status of little interest to a prospective student looking at employment outcomes. A prospective student looking at employment statistics is almost certainly planning to seek work after graduation and is thus primarily interested in outcomes of other people who are seeking work. While we exclude these graduates from our Under-Employment Score due to the category's definition, we must note that the category raises serious concerns and is ripe for abuse.
For 2015 graduates, 1.3% were not seeking work. This is a rather high percentages for a group like law school graduates, especially compared to the 1.1% of the national workforce not actively seeking work at that time. Part of the reason may be that the category combines two very different groups—people who have voluntarily opted out of the labor force and people who want to work but have become discouraged and given up (however the school defines this). While a prospective student would not be concerned with people who voluntarily leave the work force, they would be very interested in people who have had such a bad experience seeking work that they have lost hope.
Despite our concerns, we have decided that our suspicions are not enough to go on, thus we assume for now that schools do not abuse the category. Prospective students should be aware, however, that the average unemployed and not-seeking rate, by school, is 1.4% for the class of 2015. Excluding the ten schools with the highest non-seeking rate, the number drops to 1.1%. The rate at each of those schools exceeded 5%, an astonishly high percentage. We encourage applicants to seek more data from their prospective schools when the not-seeking rate is significantly higher than the national average.