The GW Law School publicly revealed its Class of 2011 graduate employment figures last week, amid heightened pressure for law schools nationwide to be more transparent about job numbers.
Among the top 20 law schools ranked by U.S. News & World Report, GW is the first and only institution to post updated employment numbers on its website ahead of its March 31 admissions application deadline. Most schools report their data by June.
“I wanted to make sure we posted our new employment numbers for the Class of 2011 just as soon as we had them, so those coming to our website would have the most up-to-date information available,” Dean Paul Schiff Berman said.
The 518 graduates, who were surveyed nine months after they entered a constricted job market, saw slightly more success securing jobs than last year, with 95.3 percent reporting that they were employed – a 0.8 percent uptick.
Nationally, about 88 percent of law graduates in the class of 2010 said they were employed nine months after graduation, in the most recent data available from the National Association of Law Placement, but some critics claim that figure is inflated.
Berman attributed the rise in employment for GW students to initiatives that the law school has been implementing to better connect law school academics and law practice. This fall, the school rolled out a mentoring program that networks alumni and students.
Law schools have recently come under fire for bolstering their employment percentage by hiring students back to the school after graduation, but GW brought back just one student to work for the University on a short-term basis.
Calls for law schools to be up front about how they report and track employment numbers have echoed throughout higher education in recent months, with 15 law schools facing class-action lawsuits for inflating their employment numbers – a list that does not include GW.
The outcry also sparked changes to law school reporting standards as enforced by their accrediting body, the American Bar Association. For the first time, law schools have to report whether graduates attain full-time positions and if their jobs require a J.D., after the ABA passed more stringent requirements in December.
Berman said publishing that 38 students have a “J.D. advantage” for employment could hurt the school’s U.S. News ranking – which takes into account graduates’ careers and whether they require a J.D. – but said it was necessary to provide a transparent look at employment prospects. The GW Law School sits at No. 20 on the U.S. News list for the third consecutive year.
“Just because someone is in a job that doesn’t require a J.D. doesn’t mean they aren’t using their law degree,” Berman said. “It might hurt GW, because we have a lot of graduates in policy jobs that don’t necessarily require a J.D., and I think that’s unfortunate.”
Patrick Lynch, co-founder of Law School Transparency, a nonprofit aimed at increasing consumer information in legal education, said the law school is right to publish the “J.D. advantage.”
“It can be difficult to reward the law school too highly, because this statistic makes GW look good, being in D.C., but for other schools, it could make them look badly,” Lynch said.
Lynch said while the law school is doing better than most schools nationally at reporting graduate employment information, there are still areas that need improvement.
Only 34 percent of employed graduates reported their full-time salary information, the lowest return rate in the last 4 years of employment. The school also does not report how many students it surveyed when it breaks down salary information according to graduates’ field of employment, which Lynch called “misleading,” because it does not show the scope of the sample.
Lynch added that law schools will always have wiggle room when it comes to graduate information, reporting data as seeming better than it really is.
Berman said the law school publishes its information in line with ABA standards because they “provide the most useful information to applicants and students while balancing potential concerns regarding the privacy of individual graduates, which could be compromised if information provided was sufficiently specific that it could be matched to individual people.”