Changes to US News employment calculation fail to provide necessary nuance to prospective students

US News and World Report released its new law school rankings on Tuesday. While KU Law’s reputational scores among lawyers and judges improved, our overall ranking declined 12 spots to a tie for No. 79 among all law schools. KU Law ranked No. 38 among public law schools.

KU Law did, however, rank No. 50 overall, and No. 25 among public law schools, in a new category created by US News called “When Lawyers Do the Grading.” The category is based on the opinions of people doing the hiring at the some of the nation’s largest law firms.

Past method of employment calculation

In the past, US News counted law grads as employed at graduation (.04 weight in the overall rankings formula) and at nine months after graduation (.14 weight in the formula) if they were working full or part time in a legal or non-legal job or pursuing additional graduate education after receiving their J.D. Also, students who reported not seeking employment were excluded from the employment calculation. Finally, US News counted 25 percent of those graduates whose status was unknown as employed.

Based on this calculation, 63.2 percent of the 160 graduates in the KU Law Class of 2009 were employed or seeking additional degrees at graduation (98 students), and 89 percent nine months after graduation (136 students):

98 / (160 – 5 not seeking at graduation) = 63.2 percent employed at graduation

136 + (4 x .25) / (160 – 6 not seeking nine months after graduation) = 89 percent employed nine months after graduation

The breakdown of 2009 KU Law graduates nine months after graduation was:

  • Employed = 131
  • Attending graduate school = 5
  • Seeking employment = 14
  • Not Seeking employment = 6
  • Unknown = 4

Changes in employment calculation

This year, US News altered the employment calculation. Now, both the at graduation and nine month after employment rates are based solely on the number of grads working full or part time in a legal or non-legal job divided by the total number of J.D.s.

In other words:

  • Those students choosing to pursue additional graduate education are now counted as unemployed by US News.
  • Those students who reported not seeking employment are now counted as unemployed by US News.
  • Students from which no employment information was able to be gathered are now treated as unemployed by US News.

These changes impacted our 2009 employment statistics in the following ways:

(98 – 5 attending grad school) / 160 = 58.1 percent employed at graduation

(136 – 5 attending grad school) / 160 = 81.9 percent employed at graduation

Counting the “unknown” students as unemployed encourages schools to track down employment information for all of their graduates by eliminating any advantage of classifying a student as “unknown.”

Of course, there will almost always be a handful of graduates from which employment information cannot be gathered, despite best efforts. This group represents 2.5 percent of the KU Law Class of 2009, and 3.5 percent of all 2009 US law graduates.

The other two changes in the employment calculation are harder to understand and justify. Are graduates who voluntarily seek post-J.D. degrees to further their education and better their employment prospects properly categorized as unemployed?

This is an important question, as both 3 percent of KU Law grads and of law grads nationwide reported pursuing post-grad degrees in the Class of 2009.

For example, of the five students in the KU Law 2009 class who reported pursuing additional degrees, four of the five are now employed in excellent jobs they secured on the joint strength of their J.D. and LL.M. The fifth graduated from an LL.M program in December 2010 and is now actively seeking employment.

What about students who are legitimately not seeking employment after graduating from law school? Nationally 3 percent of law grads in 2009 reported not seeking employment after graduation, while just under 4 percent of KU Law grads reported such a status.

The reasons the six 2009 KU Law grads gave for not seeking employment after graduation ranged from taking a year off to raise a child to studying for the bar exam full time after spending time volunteering for human rights causes abroad.

Nuanced information

The changes enacted by US News fail to provide the transparency and nuance that will be most helpful to prospective students, who want employment data to provide them a solid basis for comparing law schools.

Perhaps the best answer is to stop expecting that a single “employed at graduation” or “employed nine months after graduation” statistic will provide the most meaningful yard stick for comparing schools’ employment records. Schools will continue to provide these statistics, but should also make available other relevant information on which a well-reasoned enrollment decision can be made.

For example, what percentage of law graduates accepted jobs requiring bar passage? What was the mean and median salary for these jobs? What mean and median salaries were reported by graduates accepting public sector jobs? What about private sector salaries?

And what percentage of students accepting employment in these various categories reported their salaries?

KU Law Class of 2009 numbers are:

62 – Percentage of grads accepting jobs requiring bar passage
$70,754 – Mean salary for bar passage jobs
$55,000 – Median salary for bar passage jobs
93.8 – Percentage of students with bar passage required jobs reporting a salary

$50,666 – Mean salary for public sector jobs
$50,000 – Median salary for public sector jobs
87.9 – Percentage of grads employed in the public sector reporting a salary

$72,660 – Mean salary for private sector jobs
$61,000 – Median salary for private sector jobs
80.6 – Percentage of grads employed in the private sector reporting a salary

The decision to go to law school is an important one and should be made based on an evaluation of many factors. Even the evaluation of a factor that may on the surface seem simple and easily quantifiable, such as employment, is more nuanced than the reporting of only two statistics by US News would suggest.

US News asserts that its modified employment calculation presents “a more realistic presentation of the employment data that is currently available to US News.” The most realistic presentation of employment data should include at a minimum an acknowledgement of the percentage of law graduates in bar passage required jobs, a breakdown of public sector versus private sector employment, and the percentage of students reporting salaries in the various employment categories.

Todd Rogers, Assistant Dean for Career Services