The Need for Auditing of Law School Admission Data
By Professor Jerry Organ
Law schools shape the professional identity of their graduates. Instilling a sense of professional identity shaped by the highest ethical standards is difficult, however, when law schools themselves fail to model behavior reflecting the highest standards of professionalism.
In the last two years law schools have been lambasted on blogs and in the media for too frequently modeling an approach to information disclosure (or nondisclosure) that fails to reflect the “professionalism” to which we hope our students will aspire as lawyers. Much of this criticism has concerned “misrepresentations” by law schools that publish employment statistics for their graduates in the most favorable light possible, even if presented in a way that may create misimpressions, or that fail to disclose the retention rates of competitive scholarships.
The ABA is facing pressure from many corners, including from members of Congress, to assure that it gathers and disseminates, and that law schools publish, information regarding employment outcomes and scholarships in a manner that assures that prospective law students have much more accurate information in a format that is easier to understand and makes comparisons among law schools easier.
The Questionnaire Committee of the Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar has been working over the last year on revising the questions it asks law schools so that it can gather and present much more granular data regarding employment outcomes for law graduates in a clear and easy to follow format. At the same time, the Section’s Standards Review Committee has been working on developing accreditation standards that will mandate disclosure by law schools of employment outcome and scholarship retention data in a consistent format that will greatly assist prospective law students and pre-law advisors.
Many critics are calling for auditing of employment outcome data. The Questionnaire Committee has considered the possibility of developing a system for auditing employment data, but is concerned that auditing would be a significant and costly endeavor. Because schools gather the information from individual graduates an audit might require reconnecting with each graduate in a given data set to confirm the accuracy of the data reported.
In the last several months two incidents have highlighted a separate problem. In January, the Villanova University School of Law acknowledged that it had knowingly submitted to the ABA inaccurate LSAT and GPA profiles of its entering classes for a couple of years. More recently, the University of Illinois College of Law acknowledged that it submitted inaccurate data to the ABA for a couple of years and had published on its website inaccurate data about the grades and test scores of this semester’s incoming first-year law school class. As noted above, this behavior is problematic because it not only misleads prospective law students and others regarding the law schools in question, it also erodes the ability of law schools generally to instill in their graduates a professional identity reflecting the highest ethical standards.
Unlike the employment data discussed above, however, there is an easy way to police law schools through auditing of LSAT and GPA data. The LSAC maintains a data set reflecting each law school’s LSAT and GPA profile for its matriculants based on the software the LSAC and law schools use to track applicants electronically. It would be very easy for the LSAC to submit to the Questionnaire Committee a report on each law school’s LSAT and GPA data for its entering class to allow the Questionnaire Committee to cross-check the data submitted by law schools.
A number of pre-law advisors raised this issue with the LSAC at the Pre-Law Advisors National Council Board meeting in March of this year. At that point, however, the LSAC representative expressed no interest in having the LSAC serve as an auditing check on law schools, noting that the LSAC is a membership organization and that any such action would require the consent of the member law schools. Daniel Bernstine, the President of the LSAC, recently was quoted in a National Law Journal article: “That’s just not something we have done historically, and I don’t see why we would. We are not in the reporting business. We don’t distinguish between our [law school] members.”
Despite President Bernstine’s protestations to the contrary, LSAC is in the reporting business. It reports annually the aggregated results of those who take the LSAT and jointly with the ABA publishes the ABA-LSAC Official Guide to law schools, in which the inaccurate data from Villanova and Illinois was reported for the last few years. It also issues a variety of reports to law schools and to pre-law advisors.
The auditing of LSAT and GPA data needs to happen. Why LSAC should be involved is quite simple – if it is not part of the solution, then it is part of the problem – and right now it is part of the problem.
The auditing can move forward in one of two ways.
First, law school admissions officers and law school deans can organize themselves and as the “members” of LSAC, can take action within the LSAC governing structure to change policy and to authorize and require LSAC to share data with the Questionnaire Committee to facilitate the Questionnaire Committee’s auditing of the data reported by law schools. While some may think this would be conduct contrary to self-interest of law schools, the reality, in my view, is that the vast majority of admissions personnel at law schools strive to present data in an ethical and accurate manner. Thus, I fully expect that a significant majority of law schools might agree to authorize LSAC to share law schools’ LSAT and GPA data with the Questionnaire Committee so that the Questionnaire Committee can audit the data. They have nothing to hide. By authorizing LSAC’s involvement, the many “good citizens” no longer would have to worry about the handful of “bad actors” taking advantage of an environment without audited data.
Second, the Standards Review Committee and the Accreditation Committee of the Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar could require, as a condition of ongoing accreditation, that each law school consent to have the LSAC release that school’s matriculant profile for LSAT and GPA to the Questionnaire Committee so that the Questionnaire Committee can “audit” or “cross-check” the LSAT and GPA data each law school submits in a given year.
Because some law schools have lacked moral courage and proven incapable of “making the right choice” in assuring that prospective law students have access to accurate and clear data – whether it be regarding employment and salary statistics, the likelihood of non-renewal of competitive scholarships, or most recently, the LSAT and GPA profile of their entering classes – they have opened the door to increased regulation, to mandatory information disclosure and to the possibility of auditing. While auditing of employment data will be challenging and likely expensive, the auditing of LSAT and GPA data for each law school’s entering class is quite simple and inexpensive. Law schools would do well to police themselves in this situation by taking action to authorize and require the LSAC to facilitate the auditing of LSAT and GPA data by releasing data to the Questionnaire Committee. If law schools are not willing to take such action promptly, the Section for Legal Education and Admission to the Bar should require each law school to consent to the disclosure of the LSAC’s LSAT and GPA data for that school as a condition of ongoing accreditation.
In the meantime, there is nothing to prevent any “good citizen” law school from voluntarily providing to the Questionnaire Committee this month its LSAC matriculant report for the Fall 2011 entering class so that the Questionnaire Committee can audit the school’s self-reported LSAT and GPA profile.
REQUEST THAT YOU COMPLETE A SHORT SURVEY — I have created a survey asking for public input on how best to deal with the data integrity issues associated with LSAT and GPA reporting by law schools. Please complete the accompanying survey found at this link http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/Auditing_LSAT_GPA to express your opinion about what, if anything, should be done to improve the integrity of the LSAT and GPA data reported by law schools.
Jerry Organ is a Professor of Law at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis, Minnesota and serves as Associate Director of the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions. His research and writing increasingly focus on law school culture and the formation of professional identity in law school. He has served for the last year on the Questionnaire Committee for the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar. Please note that these opinions are solely those of Professor Jerry Organ and are not endorsed by or made on behalf of the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions, the University of St. Thomas School of Law or the Questionnaire Committee of the Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar.