Thursday, March 19, 2009

Missing ABA Legal Education Statistics

I got obsessed with the “200 law schools” issue in my previous posting because I let myself get sidetracked while looking for some ABA statistics. Back in the Summer of 2007, several folks noted (Paul Caron here and Tom Bell here) that the ABA had finally put all the data from the ABA/LSAC Official Guide on the ABA web page in Excel spreadsheets so that the data-obsessed among us could crunch and sort the numbers however we wanted. It’s the same numbers published in the print edition of the Official Guide, and the ABA’s legal education page has some slices of the data in PDF, and other sites have other chunks of the data, but these were the raw numbers, in totality, in a format that you could use to do just about anything.

For example, I’ve been on the self-study committees for both of the ABA/AALS re-accreditation visits that we’ve been though since I came here in 1999, and I like to do things like compare the ratios of library books per student and per faculty, library square footage per student, etc., between us and our “peer group” law schools. Some of those turned out to be worthwhile comparisons and we actually used a few in the self-study reports. Back in 2001 I had to manually enter the data, but in 2007 I used the Excel spreadsheets and it saved me a lot of time. The spreadsheet also make it easy to sort all the data and see where your school falls among all 198 law schools when ranked according to all sorts of factors - percentage of minority students and faculty is one popular parlor game to play with those statistics around here.

Back in 2007, I think everyone presumed that the ABA was going to make new data available in a fresh set of spreadsheets each year thereafter. We had our site visit in April 2008, and I was only too glad to forget about law school statistics for a while, so I didn’t check back to get the following year’s spreadsheets until recently. The ABA statistics page is here:

and all they have are STILL the statistics that were there in the Summer of 2007, the “2008” data. (This is a confusing point - the ABA Official Guide is published the summer before the calendar year that is indicated by its “edition year”, and its data is from the questionnaire conducted in the previous Fall; so data from the Fall 2006 questionnaire was published as the “2008 Edition” of the Official Guide, which came out in the summer of 2007; the introduction to the print edition of the Guide explains this, more or less.)

So seeing that the expected 2009 data wasn’t there, I contacted the ABA statistics person. He said they were hard at work on the data collected last semester (Fall 2008) for the forthcoming “2010 Edition” of the Official Guide, which will be published this summer. When I clarified that I wanted the data from the 2009 edition, which was published last summer, and that all the web page had was the data from the previous edition, he told me that he had started working at the ABA last summer and so in the transition from his predecessor the data just didn’t get posted. He said that both sets of data, from the 2009 and 2010 editions of the Official Guide, might be released in the future, but that the decision to do so would be up to the ABA legal ed consultant.

So I’m going to gently prod our Dean to bring this up whenever he deals with the consultant or anyone else at the ABA, as well as when he talks to his fellow law school Deans at their various get-togethers, and anyone else interested in the law school accreditation process and comparisons and rankings and such should also gently prod the ABA legal education folks to release this data in those handy-dandy Excel spreadsheets and to do so routinely each year.

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