The recession has been no fun for many lawyers, especially recent graduates. Firms stopped hiring, layoffs hit some of the most prestigious firms, and plenty of firms folded altogether. If you graduated from law school in the last eight years or so, your job prospects aren’t what they might have been in the early to mid-2000s. So what do you do about it? A bunch of people decided to put their new law degrees to good use and sue their law schools. And they’re pretty much all losing. As the Wall Street Journal reports:
Disgruntled law-school graduates who filed suits accusing their alma maters of deceiving them about their chances of landing a well-paying job haven’t had much success in court.
More than a dozen class actions were filed in 2011 and 2012, but courts across the country have knocked out the lawsuits one by one, including a recent dismissal in Florida. Only a few remain.
The suits generally allege that the schools published employment data that was misleading because it did not specify whether the employment was full time, permanent, or an actual attorney job. For example, the recently dismissed Florida suit was brought by a group of Florida Coastal Law grads alleging the school’s reported 80-90% of graduates who found jobs within 9 months would in fact be more like 30-40% if the school only counted full-time, permanent work requiring or preferring a law degree. But the judges weren’t buying that the students were deceived for a reason that would be funny if it weren’t so sad. From the Daily Business Review:
U.S. Magistrate Judge Patricia D. Barksdale. She found it was unreasonable for students to assume the employment numbers represented only full-time legal work, particularly because Florida Coastal ranks in the bottom 5 percent of accredited law schools based on grade-point averages and LSAT scores.
"A person considering law school, while not necessarily sophisticated, is college-educated and may be reasonably expected to perform some due diligence that goes beyond glancing at a for-profit enterprise's self-serving numbers before plunging into substantial debt," Barksdale wrote.
In other words, the law school wasn’t misleading its students because no reasonable student would believe graduating from a bottom-of-the-barrel law school would actually help land them a job. (Side note: Florida Coastal's victory was won by a team from Venable LLP, a firm that does not count a single Florida Coastal alumnus among its 633 attorneys.)
I get that the recession has been tough on many lawyers. Like many new lawyers, I found myself unemployed in 2008 and underemployed for a good number of years after that. But like MJ Barksdale wrote, you probably shouldn’t decide to go to law school during a recession based on a quick glance at some employment numbers without investigating further. And the irony is that dragging your alma mater’s name through the mud in these much-publicized law suits may actually hurt your job prospects even further.
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