Thursday, March 15, 2012

On the Law School Scam

So, have you heard about all of those law schools that are being sued for allegedly inflating their post-graduation employment statistics? From The National Law Journal:

The plaintiffs’ attorneys who have already launched class actions targeting 14 law schools announced on March 14 that they were suing an additional 20 schools in 10 states, including some of the most highly regarded in the country.

The move was not unexpected. After the attorneys sued 12 schools in early February, they announced their intention to file suit against 20 to 25 additional schools every several months. They allege that the targets committed fraud by inflating or misrepresenting their postgraduate employment data to lure students.

In a press release, the plaintiffs’ attorneys said the average debt load for graduates of the 20 schools was almost $115,000.

As an attorney, I'm glad to see these suits happening and garnering some attention.

I don't expect sympathy from the general non-lawyer public, though, which tends to have a general dislike of lawyers. Sadly, I think part of this dislike is due to the misperception that most of us are working at gigantic law firms making six-figure salaries so WTF are we complaining about anyway?

The reality, as the above article notes, is that many law graduates have six-figure student loan debts that, unlike mortgages and other types of debt, are not dischargeable in bankruptcy. And, due to the combo of this mortgage-sized debt and relatively-modest salaries, many are living paycheck-to-paycheck.

Sure, I can hear people saying that law grads Knew What They Were Getting Into when they went to law school, but what's kind of the point of the lawsuits is that, no, actually many students didn't know what they were getting into, employment-wise, because law schools have lied about, misrepresented, and/or have not been totally candid about their stated employment statistics of their graduates for years.

Paul Campos, one of the few law professors who publicly speaks out about what's become known as the "law school scam," has noted that while almost all ABA-approved law schools report that 90% of graduates are employed within 9 months of graduation, that number drops to 62.9% if we exclude those employed in non-legal and part-time jobs. (Campos still believes that this 62.9% figure is too high, because it does not exclude people in temporary positions).

When I was thinking about law school more than a decade ago, I certainly relied on this employment data to make my choice. Back then, I believed the statistics the schools were presenting and made my choice accordingly. Upon graduation, I would estimate that less than half of my class had solid job prospects. I remember thinking that Career Services, professors, and deans were of little to no help in this regard and, rather than feeling like part of a "vast network of legal professionals," many of us felt like we were totally on our own once we graduated.

After all, the school already had our tuition. What more did they want with us or from us?

Anyway, these lawsuits, I believe, are only the tip of the iceberg. Graduates of other programs and schools will (and already are) filing similar suits.

We hear a lot about how higher education is one way we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. For many people, that's a myth. Although, unfortunately, when education is treated like a market commodity rather than a basic right, it seems like a good way a select few can pull themselves up by their bootstraps is by selling that myth.

[Cross-posted: Alas]

No comments: