Fudging the numbers

A couple weeks ago, my undergraduate alma mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, had to launch an investigation into the LSAT and GPA numbers the law school reported to the American Bar Association about its incoming Class of 2014.

As the National Law Journal reported Sept. 12, if the allegations are true, the university would be the second school this year to be caught lying about the credentials of their law students. (Villanova was censured by the ABA and may have been reporting false numbers as far back as 2002.)

If one really thinks about it, what is the point of fudging your numbers when you are one of the most reputable public law schools in the great State of Illinois? (I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, so forgive my bias.)

Well, as law students across the country know, especially as we finish up the on-campus interview process for those highly-coveted law firm summer associate gigs, law firms choose to interview at only the top-ranked law schools. In order to be admitted into one of these law schools at the top of the pyramid, you need stellar LSAT scores and a really great GPA.

Those stellar LSAT scores and really great GPAs belonging to admitted students is what drives the ranking system released by U.S. News & World Report. The LSAT scores and GPAs of a law school’s incoming class account for nearly 25% the annual ranking; job placement rates account for 20%.

Considering all the controversy surrounding what numbers law schools are reporting for their job placement rates — graduates of the Thomas J. Cooley School of Law and New York Law School faced with hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt sue their alma maters last month for fraudulent advertising — I guess it was only a matter of time before the other shoe dropped.

How many other law schools out there have been “fudging” their numbers to maintain a certain standing in the U.S. News rankings? As a follow-up article by the National Law Journal states, the number of students applying to law schools fluctuates while law school administrators feel an immense amount of pressure to maintain their prestigious profiles. What figures should prospective law school applicants really believe as they make the decision to attend a certain school, or even to attend law school in the first place?

What are your thoughts? Do you think that the censure of Villanova (and most likely the University of Illinois) is a slap on the wrist that will really change nothing? What actions should the ABA take to ensure the transparency of numbers reported by law schools across the nation in the future?

I, for one, expect that we will be hearing a lot more about these numbers issues in the future, whether it be the inaccurate reporting of LSAT scores, GPAs or job placement rates. I smell the great plot of a John Grisham novel in the making.

2 thoughts on “Fudging the numbers

  1. If you’d do a little research you’d learn that “we have heard a lot more about these numbers issues” in the past. There are a number of websites devoted to almost nothing else, and the sites have been around (literally) for years. Fudging numbers is just the tip of the iceberg; there are lots of other tricks. Why do young lawyers think the first time they learn of something is the first time anyone has learned of it? That question could be the topic for a story on this blog.

  2. I don’t know about other young lawyers, but I basically operate under an assumed standard that I know the least about law when I sit in a meeting with senior associates, partners, or the houseplant in the corner. So as I reported the story above, I had zero inclination to make readers believe that these number issues arose for the first time in the last year.

    While there may have been grumbling about the reporting of inaccurate numbers in the past, official censures (as much of an ineffective “slap on the wrist” they may be) and lawsuits have shone a brighter spotlight on these problems. Moreover, false advertising by law schools can lead to harsher consequences in these bad economic times than they did 5-10 years ago.

    A seasoned attorney such as yourself should enlighten our young lawyer bloggers and readers with links to the archived stories you referenced above, as well as the sites that have been devoted to discussing these issues for years (literally). They would be helpful in making comparisons to the problems we face now, and observing whether any improvements have been made thus far.

    Thanks for regularly and diligently reading and commenting on our blog!

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