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Cooler heads prevail in ABA-NALP rift

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MontgomeryNewsAnalysisWhen the American Bar Association sent a memo to law school deans and career services offices July 27 announcing it would begin collecting its own postgraduate employment data, leadership of NALP (formerly the National Association for Law Placement) was – to say the least – a bit surprised.

NALP has been the king of postgraduate employment data for law schools for more than three decades, and it intends to keep that title.

The July 28 response was addressed to Justice Christine Durham, chair of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar Council, along with Hulett Askew, ABA consultant on legal education. NALP leaders said that the council’s executive committee’s decision to move forward with plans to collect data independently – without any input from the public – was counter to recommendations from its own Section of Legal Education’s Questionnaire Committee.

The complaint, signed by NALP Executive Director James Leipold and President Marcelyn Cox, stated: “It is also hostile to the cooperation and collegiality the Section has long enjoyed with NALP, and lays waste to a year’s worth of work between NALP and the Questionnaire Committee to prepare for what we had been led to believe would be a very different outcome.”

NALP alleged the ABA had pulled the classic bait-and-switch, luring the organization into discussions about collaborating to collect data, then stealing its ideas. NALP said it “objects in the strongest terms possible” to the ABA’s use of the research terms it had crafted and refined over the years.

And then, on Aug. 6, in the midst of its annual meeting, the ABA seemingly had a change of heart. Perhaps the cool northerly temperatures in Toronto caused the ABA to think differently about its objectives. Or maybe it was NALP’s thinly veiled threat of an intellectual property lawsuit. Whatever the motivation, the ABA certainly didn’t make a big show out of amending its 10-day-old memo. In a press release on the ABA website, at the end of the third paragraph, was this sentence: “The section and NALP have agreed to collaborate going forward.”

But what does “collaborate” mean in this context? Ask the ABA, and you may receive a copy of the very press release that contains the statement in question. Ask NALP, and you may receive a memo that portrays NALP as less agitated, but still wary.

Leipold forwarded NALP’s Aug. 9 memo to Indiana Lawyer.

In the memo, Leipold told NALP members that he and Cox attended the ABA meeting and spoke with ABA council members about its ill-received memo. Justice Durham, Leipold explained, assured NALP that the ABA intended to cooperate with NALP in collecting employment data. “The Council stopped short, however, of reversing its decision to collect individual student record level data directly from law schools,” Leipold wrote.

NALP and the ABA have agreed to establish common definitions and reporting dates, so law schools don’t become overwhelmed by two organizations asking for two wildly different data sets. Leipold wrote that the best approach would be for both organizations to request the exact same data at the exact same time. “That is the ideal we will be working towards, but the devil may be in the details,” he wrote. “NALP will be working to sort out the details with the ABA’s Questionnaire Committee, with guidance from the ABA Council, in the weeks ahead.”

According to NALP, the implementation of the ABA data collection process will be a two-step, two-year process, beginning this October when the ABA will collect an abbreviated data set for each graduate of the class of 2010.

The ABA plans to collect full data in February 2012 for each 2011 law graduate. NALP said it will continue to request a single electronic file from each school, while the ABA may ask for schools to input student record data one student at a time through an online data submission form. It seems that NALP may be correct in its assumption that the ABA’s data collection will cause more work for schools. But with NALP and ABA still negotiating the details of their collaboration, it’s too early to say how – or if – the ABA’s request for data will affect law schools’ ability and willingness to report the same or similar data to NALP.

The ABA’s efforts are motivated by public outcry from groups like Law School Transparency and a sea of disgruntled unemployed and underemployed graduates who claim that law schools may be deceiving students about career prospects. Because the ABA is the accrediting organization for law schools, many have claimed the organization hasn’t done enough to ensure schools are accurately reporting data. But if it is true that some law schools have fudged postgraduate employment data, what’s to stop them from lying to the ABA? Unlike NALP, the ABA is not in the business of crunching numbers and producing detailed analyses. One has to wonder if the ABA has the resources to handle the work it’s setting out to do.

Christine Corral, executive director of the Career Planning Center at Valparaiso University School of Law, said she was unsure what the end result would be of the NALP and ABA collaborating to collect data.

“I think the biggest thing is that both groups are at the table,” she said.•
 

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  • ABA self interested and not at all representative of average lawyer
    ABA probably thinks that its in the ABA's own interests to have a bunch more unemployed lawyers running around. More possible ABA dues payers right? And it creates a bigger reserve army of the unemployed which benefits the biggest legal employers too, and they probably control the ABA anyhow. Just like big business plus big labor equals workers lose. SSDD.

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