Editorial: Law Students to the ABA: Wake Up, Get Off the Sidelines

[The following is an editorial co-written by the Cardozo Jurist and The BLS Advocate. The Advocate and the Jurist decided to co-write this editorial because it addresses an issue affecting the law school community as a whole. A version of the editorial is also available on the Jurist's website.]

Our economy is depressed. These are difficult times for all.

While disheartening, we must acknowledge the situation before us. Things have changed in the last few years. Legal jobs are scarce. Law school is hardly a “safe bet” – in fact, it is a perilous one.

In these times, we need an American Bar Association (ABA) that is proactive. An ABA that is present. An ABA that is attentive to the economic climate and what this means for prospective and current law students.

Instead, as Erik Slepak’s story “ABA Drags Feet in Stopping Law Schools’ Reporting of Misleading Post-Grad Job Stats” and Warren Allen’s feature article “The Litigating Classes: Taking Their Schools to Court” illustrate, the ABA has been reactive when the times call for it to be proactive. We find this deeply disappointing.

Understandably, in past years of economic prosperity, prospective law students weren’t as concerned with post-grad employment statistics. But, in these trying times the stakes are higher. Prospective students want to know: How many graduates have jobs that require a JD? How many are employed through the law school’s fellowship program? How many have part-time jobs? They have a right to the answers to these questions.

Until two weeks ago, the ABA did not require law schools to provide such information to prospective students. Some law schools voluntarily offered this information to prospective students. But, many other schools opted only to provide rather basic statistics, like percentage of graduates employed nine months from graduation. This figure gives prospective students no sense of how many graduates have part-time legal or non-legal jobs.

While the schools that offered only basic statistics were technically in compliance with ABA standards, their approach was morally questionable. Prospective students should have access to crucial statistics when deciding where to go to law school. Without commenting on the merits of the lawsuit brought by Jesse Strauss and David Anziska, the suit symbolizes warranted frustration. While the ABA may not have required law schools to provide detailed statistics, that fact is not enough to absolve law schools that provided only basic statistics from blame.

As for the ABA, it is clearly behind the times. Instead of directing law schools to provide such information on its own, the ABA has only done so after enormous public pressure in the form of open letters from Senators Boxer and Grassley and negative media attention. Such conduct demonstrates a lack of initiative, and shows that while the world changes around us, we may be stuck with an ABA that is a few steps behind. That’s unfortunate, and the legal profession deserves better.

We strongly urge the ABA to pick itself up and ready itself for the future. We encourage it to bring in new faces and distance itself from the law school establishment by minimizing the influence of school administrators. The ABA should be a strong, independent organization that recognizes the plight of the prospective and current law student. Unfortunately, that’s not the ABA we’ve seen lately.

A good way for the ABA to start would be to follow up on its promise to examine law schools’ policies regarding merit scholarships. A speedy investigation followed by sweeping reform would be welcomed by prospective and current students alike.

The ABA needs to wake up. A primary cause of this economic disaster was the deceptive practices of the country’s financial institutions. The time to sit back and disinterestedly allow institutions to pursue smoke and mirror tactics has long since passed. We don’t know why the ABA didn’t get this memo, and we don’t much care. All we know is, from here on out, the ABA needs to be ahead of the curve and not behind it.