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.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.
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.
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.