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ABA employment data is taken based on surveys of law school students ten months after graduation. Every law school, even Yale, has some fraction of their graduates listed as unemployed. According to ABA protocol, any student not employed because they are awaiting BAR results or are studying to retake the BAR are classified as unemployed. Does anyone have any feeling for how this might skew the ABA employment data? It seems that those schools with high fractions attempting the BAR and high fractions passing the BAR on the initial attempt might therefore have lower unemployed numbers. Does anyone have an impression as to what fraction of graduates fail their initial attempt and study for a full year to retake, or those graduates that just spend a full year studying before taking the BAR the first time? Thus, those law schools that have lower initial BAR passage rates might therefore see higher unemployed numbers due to students purposely taking a year off to prepare for the BAR? How common is it for law school graduates to refuse any fulltime job because they either fail their first attempt at the BAR and devote themselves to do better a second time, or take a year off to prepare before taking it the first time?
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This is not common at all. Virtually everyone who graduates law school who has/wants a job practicing law will take the bar exam at the first sitting after they graduate (usually July, though some people graduate a semester off the usual cycle and sit for the first time in February).
If they already have a job lined up (like a biglaw position), they want to get the bar out of the way before they start work, since studying is pretty intense and not something you usually want to do on top of a new job; and for some jobs, like prosecutor/defense attorney, you have to get admitted as soon as possible because you can't appear in court without being admitted and they need you to get into court right away.
If the law grad doesn't have a job lined up, they still want to get admitted as soon as possible, because many jobs that hire people post-graduation will expect/require admission as a condition of employment. So you won't be considered by a lot of employers until you're barred.
So generally no one who wants to get a legal job plans to take an entire year off to study for the bar.
Some people do fail, of course, and have to take it again in February. How that works with employment varies. If someone already has a biglaw job when they fail, they usually get the opportunity to take it a second time. If you're in one of those jobs that requires immediate appearances in court, sometimes you just lose the job. So if you're employed and fail, you may or may not stay employed
I'm not going to say if someone is unemployed and fails, or has a job but fails and gets fired, they never "refuse" to take a full-time job so they can devote more time to studying the second time. If a grad has a family or spouse willing to support them during the second go-round, I'm sure some people take that time off. I think it's more likely, though, that if someone doesn't get a job before their second bar exam, it's because they can't get one, not because they haven't tried. Because many people need some way to support themselves and can't afford just to not work until they next time they can take the bar.
So to get to the question I think you're asking: yes, the ABA statistics probably underreport the ultimate employment status for students at some schools, to some unknown extent. I'm pretty sure that out of my own law school class, the employment stats went up after the 10-month mark that the ABA measures (we also graduated into a recession).
However, there's no reason to think that students graduating from lower-ranked schools are somehow disproportionately more likely to opt out of even trying to get a job before than the ABA 10-month-postgrad date. It's true that more people are likely to end up employed, ultimately, than the 10-month stat shows, but I think that given a choice between getting a permanent job sooner, and getting one later, most people are going to opt for getting one sooner. There's no expectation that law grads are going to take a chunk of time off and do some modern equivalent of the Grand Tour, or a gap year; the standard timeline is graduate in May, study till July, take the bar, and start work either late summer or in the fall.
So when you're comparing schools, all else equal, people are reasonably going to prefer a school that has more of its graduates in jobs 10 months after graduation rather than less. People who aren't employed 10 months after graduation may well still get jobs and ultimately thrive. But they will spend a lot more time unemployed, possibly incurring additional debt, or having to take non-legal jobs that will pay rent but not help advance their legal career. And the mental strain of unemployment/applying when many of your classmates are already working can be extremely difficult. If you take a look at the Vale of Tears thread, you'll get a sense of how difficult many people find it.
So while the 10-month stat isn;t represent a drop-dead deadline for getting a legal job, it's still a useful means for comparing schools because collectively, law grads expect to and would rather get jobs sooner rather than later. There are doubtless some ilaw grads who do take time off before even looking for a job, for various personal reasons, but again, there's no reason they're going to be concentrated in lower-ranked schools such that they depress the employment stats of those schools.
As for bar passage rates, you can go look those up easily enough by school. Employment rates do tend to track bar passage since if you don't already have a job, having to retake the bar is likely to make it take longer for you to get one. IMO, schools' bar passage rates are really more about the ability/experience of the students in a given school; students with higher LSATs and UGPAs are students who've historically succeeded on standardized tests, so schools filled with students who have those higher scores are going to have higher bar passage rates than schools filled with students who have historically struggled with standardized tests. (Not a comment on anyone's lawyering ability, just the very specific issue of passing the bar exam.)
I suppose it is possible that in schools where entrance requirements are very (very!) low, some people with a history of struggling with standardized tests do take more time off to study. I suspect this is going to be a pretty small percentage. The best way to pass the bar is to take a prep course, and they are very structured/scheduled and intended to fit in the space between May and the July bar (or December and the February bar). Some students won't have the money to take these courses, and may self-study over a longer period, especially if they're doing it on top of work. But none of this is a great recipe for passing the bar and getting a legal job, to be frank. So when you're talking about this kind of population, you're probably not going to see as much of a rise after the 10-month date.
(Bar isn't all-caps. It's not an acronym, it's a reference to an actual physical bar.)