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Unemployed Lawyers Sue Their Law Schools

This article was written by in Career and Work. 23 comments.


A group of fresh, unemployed lawyers have banded together to sue law schools. 73 alumni have filed at least fifteen class-action lawsuits, alleging the schools inflated employment figures and salary data to attract students and increase rankings. The real goal of the lawsuits seems to be to effect systemic change in the education industry and associations that accredit law schools, like the American Bar Association.

Schools are in the business of generating alumni, and to a great extent, use as many marketing tricks that any company uses in order to influence public opinion. It’s true that a 90% graduate employment rate looks better than a 75% rate on paper, and I’d be more inclined to choose a school with a higher employment rate, with all other factors being equal. But a 90% graduate employment rate doesn’t guarantee that I would receive the job I want after graduation, even if I were in the top 10% of the class.

Furthermore, I’ve come to the conclusion over the years that any statistic used for marketing purposes is subject to manipulation in an attempt to further the goals of marketing. Hard numbers give the impression of fact. From an early age, we’re trained to believe that one plus one equals two, in all circumstances, and numbers are truth. Statistics can be misleading in many ways, and are used more often to try to convince others of a point of view rather than quantify facts in reality.

Law school graduationThe group of lawyers probably can’t prove that the blame for their unemployment situation rests with the law schools. There are many factors that contribute to unemployment, including the overall economy, local job markets, and the effort, skills, and self-marketability of each alumnus. It doesn’t appear as if the former students are suing to have the schools compensate them for the lack of expected income from working, but they are suing to enlighten the public to the issue of misleading statistics throughout the educational industry.

Mutual funds must advertise that “past performance does not guarantee future results.” Even if a graduate employment rate were perfectly measured and accurately reflected exactly what a potential student understood the number to be, a good rate today is no indication that the rate will continue to be high by the time the school awards a degree or certification. If my index mutual fund returned 12% last year and lost 8% this year, I can’t sue the fund manager or the stock market for not providing the dividends I was hoping for. If fraud was involved, it might be a different situation. Perhaps misleading statistics like graduate employment rates are somewhat fraudulent, but I don’t see a parallel as schools do not typically promise that students will be employed at the level they’d like after graduation — and in the case of lawyers, after passing the bar exam.

There might be better ways of raising the issue of misleading statistics in the marketing endeavors in which institutes of education engage. Using the courts to make a point is only one tool that’s available to increase awareness of an issue. When you’re a hammer, though, everything looks like a nail.

Several years ago, while I was completing my Masters in Business Administration degree, I considered attending law school. Ultimately, I decided not to pursue a law degree and to focus my energy on my business instead. I think I made the right decision.

Photo: CubanRefugee
WNYC

Published or updated February 7, 2012. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Steven J Fromm

Not really sure that a law suit is warranted here, except to make a point. However, it has been pretty clear for a long time that there were too many lawyers. OK, no lawyer jokes. But really if Philadelphia is like other major cities, we have over 16,000 lawyers. That is quite a bit and you need no fancy statistics here. When I went to law school there was a least some analysis as to job prospects. I am not sure that college graduates were and are doing their homework as to job possibilities. Perhaps part of the blame has to be placed on those purchasing the law school product.

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avatar Karl

so true, too many attorneys all over the USA. We always said that.

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avatar Mahesh

I guess the School should defend itself saying they provided a quality education for the students, so much so that the students were able to use skills learned in the litigation process to sue the very same institution that gave them this quality education!!!

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avatar Maggie@SquarePennies

“Schools are in the business of generating alumni”–how true! Many law students are aware of the lack of good jobs in law upon graduation. Jobs go to the grads of the best law schools first and then to the those with the best grades in lower level law schools. The job outlook is pretty bleak right now with an oversupply of lawyers for available jobs. The law schools keep accepting new students though.

Many vocational schools run by “for-profit” corporations have practiced false advertising for years in order to get more students. They accept nearly anyone even if they know they won’t be able to handle the coursework. That’s because the school gets funding from the federal government as long as they are still registered for classes. It doesn’t hurt their funding if the students drop out during the class. It’s a bit of a scam.

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avatar tbork84 ♦1,867 (Half-Dollar)

I wouldn’t call it a scam. People are capable of looking ahead and researching what their job opportunities will be with a given degree. Even if the schools do inflate the numbers, buyer beware. They should be doing their own independent research. The idea of seeking damages against the institution that enabled them to have that ability is pretty funny in an ironic way, but I can’t really imagine that they will win this argument.

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avatar DonnaFreedman ♦45 (Newbie)

Which fields are next, I wonder: Information technology guys who can only find work selling computers at Best Buy? Teachers who can’t keep body and soul together by substituting? Basketball scholarship grads who can’t even get drafted for European leagues?

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avatar lynn ♦155 (Cent)

In my field there were only a handful of graduates. (8 years ago) It was regulated by the federal government. Pay went through the roof because no one could be found to do the work. Then the feds said ok, you need these people so you can accept more students. Many went into the field (radiology) with the thought of making a good living. Once the market was glutted – it took 2 short ganduations – the well paid were let go and the cheaper new grads were hired on.

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avatar Financial Samurai

Which school(s) did they attend? I’m pretty positive if they went to Yale Law or Harvard LAw, they would have jobs.

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avatar Ken

Don’t be so sure about that.

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avatar juggler314

Agreed, if anything those schools are worse with twisting the stats. a) yes sometimes their grads will get hired just for hirings sake, then the law firm turns around and puts them on furlough – where they get paid a percent of their salary and do pro-bono work. They do this just to retain them for later use…it’s ridiculous.

Also plenty of top tier, high end law school grads don’t have jobs…I know a number of them…

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avatar Jay S. Fleischman

Brooklyn Law School, a second-tier school in the rankings but one with an exceptionally strong alumni network in New York City, is a target of one of these actions. Personally, I think this is nothing but sour grapes and a bunch of kids with an entitlement complex.

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avatar Ken

Or people who felt that they were charged $150,000 and sold a bad bill of goods. I don’t think the suit will go anywhere, but to denigrate out of work graduates swimming in debt like that is unfair.

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avatar UnemployedBrooklynAlum

Brooklyn has “an exceptionally large alumni network”? I would love to meet some of them. Could you assist me with contacting them? Career Services hasn’t been much help.

P.S. The terms “Sour grapes” and “entitlement” do not apply to all alumni displeased with the school’s practices. I think that there’s much worse going at BLS than fudging numbers. I am extremely displeased but way too busy looking for work and/or clients to serve to be bothered by filing a lawsuit.

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avatar juggler314

Here’s an on point article about law schools manipulating their numbers: http://abovethelaw.com/2012/02/which-law-school-is-allegedly-paying-students-not-to-take-the-bar-exam-this-summer/#more-132590

Basicalyl CUNY Law wants to “persuade” the worse students to delay taking the bar, so their results wont have to be included in the official aggregated stats.

Much as Flexo said though all schools do this, there were a few blowout articles about the US News rankings of colleges that expose it as nothing but a made up list, a sham.

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avatar qixx ♦1,880 (Half-Dollar)

Targeting people unlikely to pass and suggesting they take more time to study before taking an exam is a benefit to those students. Even if the school only wants to boost their stats it is a benefit to those that wait.

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avatar UnemployedBrooklynAlum

A better approach: Brooklyn targeted students at-risk for not passing the bar on the first try (i.e. people at the bottom half of the class) and set up a year long bar prep course with Pieper in the 3rd year. I took that course. I passed on the first try. I think it was helpful and a good approach.

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avatar ritesh

I would tell any law school student to just leave, the facts are clear even if you go to harvard law school you may not get a job. if you go to a second rate law school not top 10 forget it and forget ever working as a lawyer. students need to face facts and look at other careers that are sought after be a nurse, be a computer person, just DONT GO TO LAW SCHOOL AND IF YOU ARE IN LAW SCHOOL QUIT! what they dont tell you is even if you land a job it probably sucks, and you have no career opportunities – dont do it thats all I have to say, save your money unless you have an inheritance. spend the 3 years on a beach in florida and live it – the reality is that you will probably make better use of time and get a job!

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avatar MiamiGrad

I can honestly say, from reading your post, that you have absolutely no clue what you are talking about. Sounds like a lawyer ripped you off or something in the past. You want law students to “quit”. You have obviously made a habit of that.

I am in my third year of law school for the University of Miami, and what I can tell you is that the previous two years have prepared me for a successful career. I have a job lined up for me upon graduating, and I am not alone.

If you are not in the “top 10″ then forget about it. you are an idiot, save your opinion for your kids, who I hope will have better advice than the one you have given to people on this board.

Point is, Miami/Dade county is run by University of Miami Law graduates, and admittedly, some FSU and UF grads. There are jobs. If you are lazy and don’t network or get good grades, then don’t expect to site on the board at JP Morgan.

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avatar Mahesh

If these guys watched Good Will Hunting ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119217/ ) before joining the law school this whole thing could have been easily avoided. Schools are just another business, and as such they will try to sign you up for their expensive course work.

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avatar Mahesh

The relevent part is in a bar fight where Will and a few friends hang out and Will has an argument with an elite.

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avatar Carl Lassegue

I can understand these lawyers’ frustrations at not being able to find employment but I do not think a lawsuit is the way to address the issue. But then again, maybe this lawsuit will force the schools’ employment statistics to be more regulated.

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avatar UnemployedBrooklynAlum

Some students have attempted to address these issues internally but schools like BLS are unresponsive (for obvious reasons). Sometimes you have to use the stick as opposed to the carrot. I haven’t read the pleadings but . . . A pessimist would see these lawsuits purely as kids with a sense of entitlement looking for “spare change”. An optimist would see that this lawsuit could possibly be about using the legal process as a vehicle for positive change. I hope the end result of this all is an improvement of the legal education business.

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avatar Guest

The main point of these lawsuits is the idea that the law schools are committing “fraud” by not being completely forthcoming in their post-graduation statistics. Law schools are ranked by the US News and they all take their ranking very seriously. The better the ranking, the more money the law school deans are paid, the better teachers they are able to attract, and the more money they are able to charge students (not in terms of charging more tuition, but in terms of having to offer fewer merit scholarships so that there are more people paying full price to attend). Villanova recently got caught fudging the LSAT numbers they were reporting to the US News in order to increase their ranking.

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