Law school-funded positions dry up with U.S. News methodology change

Correlation doesn't equal causation, but I'll float the correlation out there for consideration.

The ABA has recently released the employment data for the Class of 2015. One item I've noticed anecdotally as I've pulled a few states' data has been the decline in law school-funded positions. And we can now confirm a significant decline in such positions.

Several years ago, U.S. News & World Report developed a more nuanced approach to weighing employment outcomes at law schools. They created a black box formula giving different categories of employment different weight. "Full weight" would be given to graduated in full-time, long-term positions that required bar passage or in which a J.D. was an advantage. It made no distinction between positions funded by law schools and those that weren't.

Last year, for the first time, U.S. News & World Report announced a change to the methodology. The rankings now "discounted the value of these types of jobs."

This year, the first full year of reporting after the change went into effect, law schools dramatically cut back on such positions. There were 520 law school-funded bar passage-required positions for the Class of 2012, up to 777 for the Class of 2013 and 833 for the Class of 2014. This year, however, the number plunged to 397. (For comparison, the number of law school-funded J.D.-advantage positions has been slowly declining.)

There are, of course, non-USNWR reasons to see such a decline. Perhaps the employment market is naturally picking up for the best schools, which were the ones that were primarily responsible for such positions; perhaps the declining graduating classes have finally meant a disproportional reduction in such programs; perhaps schools are simply reevaluating the benefit of those programs independent of USNWR.

Nonetheless, the trend was sufficiently pronounced to display above and suggest a factor that contributed to the decline in such positions.

 UPDATE: Jerry Organ has more thoughts here. He attributes some of the decline to changes in reporting requirements and definitions from the ABA.