Job placement

Law school fuzzy grad jobs stats: A federal offense?

March 16, 2012: 10:20 AM ET

Widespread manipulation of law school employment data may boost a school's rankings, but it might also be considered federal fraud, according to a new study.

By Elizabeth G. Olson, contributor

Columbia Law School

Columbia Law School has been subject to increased scrutiny over its job placement stats.

FORTUNE -- Every year, law school deans anxiously await the release of national rankings, and for good reason. A school's prestige, revenues, and perhaps even its future depend on them.

The U.S. News & World Report released their famed rankings on Tuesday, and even deans of successful law schools may find that snagging a top spot on the list may come at a harsh cost.

Accusations that law schools have "gamed" the system by providing incomplete, misleading, or even downright false data on incoming students and graduate employment have marred the competition. So far, law schools are brushing off legal suits by jobless, or seriously underemployed, graduates and other efforts to pry open precise employment data, and clinging to the ivory-tower system of plentiful applicants with deep pockets.

But law school officials may take notice -- and umbrage -- when they see the title of a new study by two law school professors: "Law Deans in Jail."

The 77-page paper, written by Emory University School of Law professors Morgan Cloud and George Shepherd, concludes that widespread manipulation of law school graduate employment data may have not only pushed institutions higher in the national law school rankings, but also could be considered "mail and wire fraud under federal law."

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The U.S. News ranking of the country's law schools may be so flawed by deceptive or misleading statistics submitted by the country's law schools that "the harm done for many years to thousands of people has been so severe, it should not be hard to recognize the need for investigations by federal authorities to determine whether crimes have been committed," the pair conclude in the paper.

"We have simply looked at law schools and the rankings as if they were any other industries, subject to the same laws that apply to everyone else," says Cloud in an interview about the draft study, which was published on the Social Science Research Network.

Outrage spreads to top-tier schools

So far, Cloud and Shepherd say they have not received any reaction from either deans or the American Bar Association, which accredits nearly 200 law schools nationwide, but they are not the only insiders holding law schools up to increased scrutiny.

Civil lawsuits filed last year against a dozen law schools across the country are making their way through state and federal courts, Congress is looking into holding a hearing on law school reporting practices, and more details of law school employment data are surfacing regularly on the web.

This week, Columbia University and New York University's prestigious law schools started to feel the heat. More

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