At the recently concluded ABA conference in Chicago, the House of Delegates ratified new standards as submitted by the Section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar in regards to Standard 509. Consumer Information. The content of the newly revised standards are important because they appear to address some of the deficiencies that law student groups have identified as needing reform.
Student pressure as consumers has manifested itself in the form of such organizations as Law School Transparency and mutiple law suits against law schools by former students. While several of the law suits have since been dismissed by several courts. They may have really had an impact as a publicizing and lobbying tool rather than expected legal victories.
Law School Transparency ( LST ) founded in 2009 as a non-profit organization has lobbied to have law school release and provide more comprehensive and accurate information about their law schools, esp, regarding employment outcomes for graduates.
According to LST, law schools were not very responsive to their calls for this type of consumer information. They say that the ABA standards for proving such information were inadequate for informed decision making by prospective students. LST has also concentrated on lobbying the ABA directly to reform the law school model for providing information to prospective law students.
LST has started gathering their own information from law schools and independent groups like NALP. They have created a database of their own to help guide prospective law students as to which law schools to attend and also whether to attend law school at all.
The ABA may have finally seriously taken the student complaints re. the inadequacy of the law school consumer standards and their enforcement. At the recently concluded ABA conference new stadards were ratified that reflect many of concerns that students have been expressing through various means.
The revisions address both new requirements and new enforcement methods and potential penalties for violations by the law schools.
The opening paragraph in the new consumer information standards broadly states that, "All consumer information that a law school reports, publicizes or distributes shall be complete, accurate and not misleading to a reasonable law school student or applicant. Schools shall use due diligence in obtaining and verifying consumer information..."
By making the effect on the target student population, the defining factor for judging the adequecy of the law school's information and marketing, claims that the prospective students should have known better, will no longer be accepted by the ABA.
This varies from the judicial interpretations in some of the legal suits mentioned earlier. Which might mean that student complaints may now be better taken up with the ABA rather than in the courtroom , for effective remedies to their claims.
The standard also states that, "Schools shall use due diligence in obtaining and verifying consumer information." Among the more important new requirements is that law schools must post employment outcomes on the schools website, to include at least three years worth of such data, at any one time. An interpretation to the standard, further requires that any additional information that a school may provide re. employment, "....Must clearly identify the number of salaries and the percentage of graduates included in the information."
This will address the law student complaints that some of the figures offered to tout law school achievements, often did not indicate the basis for the figures or how representative they actually were.
Conditional scholarships require students to maintain a minimum grade point average other than what is ordinarily required to remain in good academic standing. The standards require schools to provide retention data for such scholarships, to applicants when the scholarship is offered.
Significantly, the standards also include a spectrum of penalties. Some of which are fairly severe. They can include monetary penalties, like the recent ones the ABA imposed on U of I for submitting false admission data; possibly requiring that a school refund part or all of tuition and fees paid by students.
This is more than any of the courts in the student law suits have even considered. Student remedies against law schools may be much more viable using the new ABA standards rather than law suits claiming deceptive marketing or fraud in court.
Other possible sanctions include :private of public censure, publication of a corrective statement, a prohibition on initiating new programs. Law Schools can appeal imposed sanctions to the Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.
The most severe sanctions, probation or removal from the list of approved law schools, can only be implemented by the Council at the recommendation of the Committee.
It appears that all the law student efforts to reform law school information disclosure and marketing, have finally gotten recognition at the ABA.