Law School Law Suits

The drumbeat of law-school criticism grows louder and more persistent.  Never in my 30 years as a lawyer have so many law students, lawyers, law professors, and others sounded so many warnings about becoming a lawyer.  I post about these criticisms because many readers of A Foolish Consistency are recent law grads, in law school, or considering attending law school, and because I advise current and former students about prospective careers in law. Never in these posts have I said “do not go to law school.  Do not become a lawyer.”  It’s too complicated a question for a one-size-fits-all answer.

Still reading?  Then digest “Suing Over Jobs,”  published 11-Aug-11 at Inside Higher Ed. The article reports on recent class-action law suits brought against New York Law School, Thomas M. Cooley Law School, and Thomas Jefferson School of Law, charging “that the job placement information they released to potential students was sufficiently inaccurate as to constitute fraud.”  The suits claim that the defendants and other law schools “mix together different kinds of employment (including jobs for which a J.D. is not needed) to inflate employment rates.” Usually I have little patience for stories about law students suing their schools for fraud or misrepresentation. I think the plaintiffs are whining and pinning on others the blame for their poor outcomes.  This article makes it clear that whether or not the suits have merit, there are problems with how many law schools report their graduates’ employment.

Those suing today (and those in recent years who were disappointed by their success at finding jobs) relied on statistics that didn’t exclude those whose “jobs” were fellowships paid for by their law schools, who were in part-time or temporary jobs, or who were in jobs they could have gotten before they went to law school . . . [.]

Several years ago, [Indiana University law professor William D.] Henderson started noticing and writing about the seeming oddity that bar passage rates were declining at a time when law schools were reporting increases in employment of graduates. For this to be true, he speculated, more people were getting jobs that didn’t require them to go to law school. “You are counting people who are selling insurance,” he said. “Anybody can find a job to pay the rent.”

The article reports that Thomas Jefferson School of Law’s response to the suit does not engender confidence.

As reported in the blog Above the Law, Thomas Jefferson defended itself by noting that the U.S. News job placement figures on which the plaintiff relied were adjacent to figures in the magazine for the law school’s bar passage rate. The law school’s bar passage rate was lower and Thomas Jefferson’s rate many years was “significantly lower” than the employment rate, the law school argues in its brief. So “any reasonable reader” would know that meaningful numbers of the law school’s graduating classes were not working as lawyers. The blog’s headline for the post: “Is the Answer Worse Than the Allegations?”

Some whining is justified.

So it’s back to my mantra. Do your due diligence–and don’t be naive–about a school’s employment statistics.  Be brutally honest about your chances for academic success. Law school isn’t youth soccer, where every player gets the same trophy. 50% of law students graduate in the bottom half of their class. Going $100k+ into debt to finish no better than the middle of the pack is probably a poor economic choice

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