While the blogosphere hums with charges and counter-charges about the reliability of law school employment reports, there has been little discussion of how the information is collected. Inquiring minds ought to know how this works.

Student-to-professional ratios in career services offices

Here is a quick review of student-to-professional ratios in NALP member-law school career offices from the soon-to-be published Law School Career Services Survey 2011. This biennial survey covers salaries, education levels, and staffing, job responsibilities, and more.

One survey section is # of JD Students Per Full-time Professional Staff, which doesn’t account for either administrative tasks or work with alumni. It shows that the average career services officer (CSO) is responsible for 251 students, and 40.3 percent of CSOs have more than 251 students under their wings.

  • Fewer than 175 students: 25.8%
  • 175-250 students: 33.9%
  • 251-325 students: 18.5%
  • 326 + students: 21.8%

While it may be petty and mean-spirited to point out that budget advantages have accrued to law schools with historically lean CSO staffing, in this troubled market there are now quantifiable consequences for students and alumni who want and need help. With most CSOs responsible for 200 or more students, delivering services becomes a challenge to the space-time continuum.

December to February

CSOs would rather help students and grads, but between December and February, they must devote thousands of hours to completing the annual employment survey which they report to Deans and to NALP for its annual Jobs & JDs: Employment and Salaries of New Graduates, to USNews, to the ABA in a slightly different format, and, for those not following the news, to a set of yet-to-be-named committees and  institutions which will likely ask for other data sets.

Most CSOs would agree that 90% of their time is spent tracking down 20% of the class. This is sad, because from a CSO perspective, the only bad news from grads is no news. The more grads who report their job status promptly, the more time that CSOs have to spend helping anyone who is unemployed.

Willful refusenicks who dodge surveys and avoid the outreach outlined below are robbing their classmates who would like to work with their career counselors.

Without the power of “mandatory”

It is the rare Dean who conditions certification to the bar on a mandatory a face-to-face CSO exit interview in which a student fills out an employment survey with the counselor looking on. Lacking the power of “mandatory,” the vast majority of CSOs will be engaged most of these activities during the next few months:

1.  Reviewing Surveys (paper or electronic) sent out:

  • November of third year
  • February of third year
  • March of third year
  • At graduation
  • After bar results
  • January after graduation

2.  Making phone calls and sending email to individual alumni:

  • After July bar results
  • Throughout the fall and into January after bar results
  • In February before the NALP and ABA reporting deadlines

3.  Making phone calls to parents from information gleaned from students’ admissions files (five calls including one on Super Bowl Sunday may finally get a result)

4.  Offering Rewards

  • A prize lottery for returning a survey
  • A prize for reporting on fellow alumni
  • A prize for reporting on someone whose name appears on a “list of the lost” on bulletin boards, on class-year-email lists, and distributed to faculty and staff
  • Collecting business cards at bar admission breakfasts and having a prize drawing

5.  Sending email to faculty and staff to solicit information about “unknowns”

6.  Reviewing Bar Exam Files and Bar Association Records for contact information

  • Reviewing registrar records to determine which – if any—bar exams a student applied to take
  • Checking Bar and Court records in multiple states after bar results are announced
  • Checking bar association memberships (works best in mandatory bar states)

7.  Reviewing Alumni Office files (requires individual review and a good-to-great relationship with alumni relations — not always the case)

8.  Conducting electronic people searches

  • Hometown newspaper searches (sourced from registrar files and contacts)
  • Internet searches (Google)
  • Social networking sites including Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Google+

9.  Reconciling career services records, registrar records, and reports to the ABA documenting each graduate’s employment status. These lists are often out of sync is because there are always people who:

  • “graduated” two years ago with an one incomplete which was finished in time for the February 2011 bar, whose graduates are reported in the current reporting cycle;
  • Transferred in but were not correctly connected to career services;
  • Came as a 2L visiting student but stayed on as a transfer;
  • Completed coursework in July 2010, and sat for the February 2011 bar and will now be counted in this reporting cycle;
  • Joint degree student(s) who finished their “other” coursework two to five years after their JD class, and are now included in this reporting cycle

But what happens to the data?

Few law schools allocate additional resources to this effort so data collection and data entry take time from individual student and alumni counseling, employer outreach, and program planning. Most schools use Symplicity, and some use both spreadsheets and Symplicity to record information for each graduate like this:

  1. Enter data from employment survey responses. To ensure accuracy for the NALP ERSS, they will follow NALP’s instructions and definitions and will all review the draft of NALP’s Best Practices Guide to Managing Law School Employment Outcomes.  To ensure accuracy for the upcoming ABA report, they will follow the slightly different instructions in its proposed 11-page instruction sheet.

  2. Review the data entered to ensure accuracy of all of the details, which is critical because  a surprising number of grads do not know how many lawyers are in their offices and firms, the correct spelling of their judge’s last name, the correct name for their fellowships or the precise location of their clerkships. The survey is in small type. The employment status question has 8 parts, and the 10-part employer information question has this introduction:

COMPLETE B1, B2, AND B3 ONLY IF YOUR PRIMARY JOB IS IN LAW FIRM PRIVATE PRACTICE. IF NOT, SKIP TO B4/B5, B6/B7, B8 or B9/B10 AS APPROPRIATE. IF YOU ARE EMPLOYED BY A LEGAL TEMPORARY AGENCY, SKIP TO B4 AND B5 (BUSINESS OR INDUSTRY) REGARDLESS OF THE EMPLOYER AT WHICH THE AGENCY HAS PLACED YOU.

  1. For information gathered outside of a survey, they will enter notes in the graduate’s record about how the information was obtained, recording the dates and times of each phone conversation, and cutting and pasting full texts of email into the notes section of Symplicity.

  2. Record every failed attempt to contact each graduate, including dates/times of phone calls, and entering full texts of emails sent.

So what?

Leanly staffed and without the power of “mandatory” to extract information from alumni, CSOs do what they can with the tools that they have. Unhappy deans and administrators might want to consider how they might better support their CSOs.

Grads of the class of 2011: Report Now!

(photo: Shutterstock)