Today is the official reporting date for nine-month employment numbers to NALP (I believe NALP gives schools a couple of weeks to get their information in.)I was thinking about asking my Dean to put the 2012 9 month employment numbers up on the school’s website as soon as we have finalized them, which should be any day now (if it hasn’t happened already). I agree with you that that disclosure is a moral imperative. I suspect that if the 2012 numbers are worse than the 2011 numbers, what I’ll hear back is something like, “well, if we put our numbers up and our competitors don’t, then (1) the students may be misled into comparing apples and oranges, and (2) it’ll hurt our competitiveness. (If the 2012 numbers are better, which seems highly unlikely, I suspect the Dean will gladly put them up.) These problems would be resolved if the vast majority of respectable schools post their 2012 numbers.So, how about a post suggesting that law professors have a moral obligation to demand that their dean post their 2012 numbers?
I agree with my correspondent that legal academics have an obligation to do what we can, individually and collectively, to ensure that our institutions make the latest employment and salary data available to prospective and current students. Within the next month, every law school should post information for the class of 2012 which is as transparent as the information regarding the class of 2011 that can be found here. (Note how the data schools report to NALP are much more granular than the numbers the ABA now makes public regarding individual schools).
A couple of further notes:
(1) Reform-minded law school employees need to be especially vigilant about schools publishing misleadingly incomplete information, as almost all schools did until very recently. For example, it would be better for a school to publish nothing at all than to announce on its website that "92% of the 2012 class was employed nine months after graduation, with a reported average salary of X." Overall "employment" percentages mean next to nothing (especially given the growing trend of schools' employing their own graduates), and "average" salary figures are even more misleading if they exclude salaries, if any, for large percentages of the class, and omit median numbers in favor of means.
This will especially be a problem at lower-ranked schools, where large majorities of each class have no reported salaries, causing the few reported high salaries to skew the data about an already unrepresentative subgroup of graduates.
(2) I try very hard to force myself to be realistic about what prospective law students can be expected to know, and to resist the "individual responsibility" victim-blaming frame which American culture in general tends to impose on structural injustice. On the other hand, individual responsibility still exists. Anyone who enrolls at any law school this fall without first having extracted the relevant employment and salary information for the class of 2012 referenced above is engaging in reckless behavior, given that at this point any school that withholds this information (as large numbers of schools still do) is essentially announcing to prospective students that transparent employment and salary data regarding its graduates will incline reasonable people not to enroll.
In other words, while caveat emptor has been a much-abused principle in the common law tradition, there is a point at which it ought to have some real force. That point was not the year 2000 or 2005 or even 2011. But it is or ought to be now. Of course caveat emptor doesn't excuse active misrepresentation, of which there's still plenty in the law school world, but my sympathies for people who enroll in law school going forward without demanding and obtaining the necessary information about outcomes first is going to be limited.
Update: On reflection, the phrase caveat emptor, which has a specific legal meaning, was not the best way of conveying what I was trying to express. What I was trying to express was my own sense of exasperation at the cultural forces which create barriers to acquiring and interpreting information that, in theory, should at this point be easy to acquire. Example: if you google "should I go to law school" the first three links are to an interview with me in Newsweek about the book Don't Go to Law School (Unless), a link to that book, and a link to this blog.
But as commenters have noted, my personal exasperation is beside the point, and irrelevant to the cultural fact that, while the law school scam is over from any perspective that assumes rational maximizers of their utility engaging in minimally prudent behavior, that's not actually what human beings, and especially recent college graduates in this culture, are like.