Wednesday, June 15, 2016

ABA to Finally Audit Law School Employment Reporting

Better late than never, eh?

The ABA has announced that through a third party firm it is (has been) conducting random audits on the Class of 2015 employment numbers reported by law schools. If you are a glutton for this sort of thing, the standards are outlined in full here.

In the article, however, Barry Currier lets slip what I think are two important "fine print" type details:
Barry Currier, the ABA’s managing director of accreditation and legal education, says the audits began when the schools reported their data.
If audits over the next few years find law schools are doing a good job, the ABA may change to a system of less intensive audits, Currier says. The hope, he tells the ABA Journal, is that the audit results will confirm that schools are doing a good job of reporting, giving the public more confidence in the reliability of the data.
The ABA doing audits is somewhat revolutionary and, superficially, worthy of praise for actually giving the appearance of effort.  Slowly but surely, the consensus over the last decade has moved from naively trusting self-published law school employment numbers to a broad acknowledgement that there was (and probably still is) funny business afoot in how graduate outcomes are counted.  Legally not fraud, of course, but perfectly legal puffery funny business.  Creative accounting.

For several years now, critics have asked for audits.  Instead, we got some modified standards and suddenly the employment rates - as opposed to the singular numbers boasted about in the advertising literature of yore - moved to more accurately reflect the reality in which most of us live.

Still, audits would represent an important check upon the accuracy of the information now being advertised by law schools.  In that respect, the ABA is taking what should be an essential step in regulating such things.

But then Currier says that these audits actually started when the data was received, which was a few months ago if I'm not mistaken.  One has to wonder why the ABA had not announced this when the audits started - or even before as a deterrent mechanism against chicanery (it's not like next year will benefit from the audits being a surprise, after all).

My hunch is that the ABA didn't want to announce audits and then have them be an unmitigated disaster.  Instead, start doing them, get at least some positive feedback, and then announce them; had there been only negative feedback, I suppose the ABA has someone who can delete a press release.

This hunch is somewhat confirmed by the last line of the article.
Currier says the audit results with regard to specific schools won’t be publicly released, unless problems lead to a public sanction.
Can you see the transparency?  All the ABA has to do now is effortlessly announce that no sanctions will be handed down and the audits - maybe even the identity of the schools audited - will remain a secret, even if they would reveal potentially damning evidence, so long as the ABA - the same organization that accredited Indiana Tech - doesn't find the behavior worthy of a reprimand.

One has to wonder how such a system can actually "giv[e] the public more confidence in the reliability of the data" when it appears that nothing will be made public other than the ABA - the single body most responsible for shooting down the public's confidence in law school data across the board - saying it's all okay.  Besides, don't we want to know if a Tier 2 school was audited and the numbers were pitch-perfect under ABA guidelines, as compared to their peers, who fudged things a bit in a non-sanctionable way?  Surely that would help consumers of legal education.

Worse still is Currier's suggestion that the audits may not be needed if the ABA decides that the schools aren't doing enough to get sanctioned.  Audits are not merely designed to catch wrongdoing; they are also designed to deter wrongdoing.  If the IRS were to slack of audits when taxpayers are "doing a good job," our taxation system would somehow find itself in even more dire straits.  Lax regulation and you get a Triangle Shirtwaist Fire.  Or, a law school bubble.

Overall, it's about time that the ABA audited this stuff, but it's a decade late and key feature (some degree of consumer transparency) short.  It's hard not to see this move as lip service designed to produce results that permit a devoid-of-detail "Law Schools Doing Great in Reporting" article later this summer.  And it will be truly meaningless in preventing the nonsense of the past if the ABA changes to a "less intensive" (read: what it was in 2008) auditing system after a few exercises in confirmation bias.

Because, I suppose, if the ABA stands for one institutional operative, it's doing acts that sell to the mainstream media and the headline-reading lawyer-elite, but in truth do remarkably little for most lawyers or prospective law students.


  1. Captain Hruska Carswell, Continuance KingJune 15, 2016 at 9:28 PM

    If you reported that the FTC, Senator Warren or that our Attorney General was investigating, I would be impressed. The ABA, give me a break. The ABA is nothing more than trade group similar to the National Retail Federation, American Truckers Association, National Restaurant Association, North American Auto Dealers Association, and on and on... What do they do? Host an annual trade show where you can pick up candy and stress balls from West? The best thing GW Bush did was "de-authorize" the ABA from having any significant influence or veto power over Supreme Court nominees.

  2. aint shit gonna change. this is like when the NBA audits/reviews a flop, hits the player with a $5k penalty for flopping, and that player's team wins the NBA championship.

  3. I am a glutton for this sort of thing, so apologies for a way-too-long comment.

    The ABA auditing protocol seems disturbingly weak, especially in light of the wrongdoing that was commonplace prior to the mandatory employment survey.

    First, the ABA is only random auditing 10 schools, meaning that 194 will make It through the year with no visit from ABA auditors. True, the ABA is also asking for data for 382 randomly selected students from 156 law schools. But that is only 2 to 3 students per school, and such a small sample is unlikely to uncover a pattern of wrongdoing, especially when it is likely that even cheaters are only miscategorizing the employment results of a minority of their grads.

    Second, the ABA auditing protocol has three levels, of which only the first level is mandatory. At Level 1, “Documentation included in the Files will be presumed to be complete, accurate, and not misleading in the absence of credible evidence to the contrary.” With a presumption like that in its favor, even an outright scammer would have to be extremely blatant, sloppy, or unlucky to get tripped up.

    Third, an audit only proceeds to Level 2 if “more than 5%” of the files are found to be incomplete, inaccurate, or misleading. So apparently a law school is safe from ABA sanction, or even serious inquiry, if a mere 4% of its files are inaccurate in a way that bolsters the law school’s employment results.

    Fourth, employment result scamming might be difficult to prove, even with a conscientious Level 2 audit (independent confirmation of employment outcome data for 20% of the class) or Level 3 audit (independently review and confirmation all of the school’s reported employment data). Why? Because not every ten-month-out JD fills out the placement survey, and law schools are permitted to guess the employment status of non-responsive grads from comments related to employment status on social networking sites, such as Facebook and Linked-In. (See link below) So a desperate or humiliated grad might pretend on Facebook or some other social media site that he or she has a good job, and the lousy law school he or she graduated from can report that as a successful outcome.

    If Currier refuses to release the audit results, he should be transparent enough to inform us how many of the 10 ABA audits made it past level one review.

    1. I appreciate your level of gluttony.

      This is one of those articles where I wasn't sure if I was being overly harsh on a good-faith initiative or being too lenient on my gut instinct that it was a bogus initiative.

      If I'm reading this correctly, schools basically have a stamp of approval to purposefully inflate the numbers on every 20th student or so. That's basically green lighting intentional fraud.

  4. Foxes guarding the henhouse. The auditors should be independent. I set no store by an "audit" conducted by an organization run largely by law-school scamsters.

    This "audit" serves as a publicity stunt, not a genuine effort to protect lemmings from lies.

    1. More to your point, the overarching problem here is that a trade association was given control of admission to the trade instead of an independent accrediting body, which teed up anti-trust action by the USDOJ. That lead to a consent decree that basically forced the ABA to accredit every college or university that thought it could make a fortune running a law school and had the wherewithal to finance the acquisition of a library and a building.

      Until the ABA has zero involvement with law schools the problem cannot be solved.

    2. About ten years ago, the bar in England and Wales lost the power to regulate itself, precisely because it was neglecting the job. Instead, a commission appointed by the government now regulates the legal profession.

  5. Independent's not enough. The joke accreditation agencies that accredit undergraduate schools are independent.

    1. But the difference is those joke agencies cannot be accused by the USDOJ of trying to keep competition out of the accredidation business, while the lawyers who run the ABA were successfully accused of stifling potential competitors. Obviously, in the hopelessly glutted legal "profession" that is absurd but the Equal Protection Clause prevents DOJ from making such distinctions.

  6. The pigs will audit less than 5% of the accredited diploma mills, and 382 random rape victims. Seeing that there will be around 40,000 grads for that class, this is pathetic. Hell, that is a tiny sample size. That's the equivalent of judging a beauty contest by rating the participants' feet or calves.

    I suspect that the cockroaches will $omehow make sure to include several top law schools or relatively strong regional schools, i.e. Iowa, Minnesota, Vanderbilt, among the 10 "randomly selected" schools. This audit is worth less than a TTT law degree.

  7. I suspect, but do not know, that the 382 sample size was developed on the premise that it seems like it would be around the 95% or higher confidence level on a population size of 40k.

    I'm not a statistician and only took a course on the subject way back when, but I think the problem is that fudging the numbers isn't homogenous across the population, either in how the numbers are fudged or what types of students/schools are more likely to have fudged numbers. A school like Boston College or GWU or Emory approaches the statistics differently than Cooley or TJLS.

    I really think they should have stratified the schools into different categories, i.e., audit 1 school from Tier 1, 2-3 from Tier 2, and the remainder from Tiers 3-4. View them as distinct populations because - as well all know - they are distinct populations. Equating a Harvard graduate and a Suffolk graduate as being equally susceptible to employment reporting fraud is intellectual dishonest and counterproductive towards getting to actual transparency.

    1. As arbitrarily defined by You Ass News, the so-called tiers misrepresent reality. They link school #50 to Harvard and Yale while removing it from school #51. That makes no sense.

      A proper ranking, if one could exist, would be based on meaningful criteria, not arbitrary cut-offs. For example, the meaningful criterion of at least a 50% chance of getting a federal clerkship or a job in a big law firm (the sorts of positions that might generate enough income to support the payments on student loans) is satisfied by only 13 law schools. All others would have to go into the fourth tier.

  8. The ABA audit is WAY too little, WAY too late. Obviously the restoration of public confidence in law school employment outcomes data is not very high on ABA's "to-do" list.