Law schools across the country are being sued by graduates who claim they were misled into believing that a law degree would be their ticket to a well-paying career.
The 73 plaintiffs, many of who say they’ve been unable to find a job in their field or have had to settle for poorly paying legal work, allege the schools fudged their employment stats in order to attract applicants. The suits claim schools relied on self-reported income by small numbers of alums and counted as employed any graduate doing any kind of work.
“It’s a failure to disclose that the majority of their students fail to obtain jobs for which their degree is required or preferred,” says New York attorney David Anziska, who organized the nationwide legal campaign. “Students wound up paying inflated tuitions based on what we believe are overly broad — or in many cases downright false –placement statistics.”
In the suit against Brooklyn Law School, the four grads charge the school advertised that more than 88 percent of its alums had jobs within nine months of graduation. The lawsuit charges the school included in its count every student working in any kind of job, including part-time and temporary work outside the field.
One of the four, Adam Bevelacqua, said he racked up tens of thousands of dollars of debt to attend the school, but has yet to find a job in the profession. In the court papers he said he “specifically relied on Brooklyn Law’s representation that, depending on the year, well over 90 percent of Brooklyn Law graduates secured employment within nine months of graduation.”
Twelve suits filed this month join three filed last year. More should be expected, Anziska told The National Law Journal. “Our goal is that every few months we will file between 20 and 25 lawsuits. The key, right now, is to bring as many law schools as possible into the fray.”
Connie Mayer, interim president and dean of Albany Law School, one of those sued this month, said the school followed the reporting requirements set by the American Bar Association. “We have documentation that supports the accuracy of our data,” she said.
Her comments were echoed by representatives of several of the other schools being sued. Leslie Steinberg, associate dean for public affairs at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles, said, “We’ve always provided accurate data … we gather as much information as comprehensively as possible. We update our Web site when more information becomes available.”
Accurate reporting and adherence to ABA requirements has so far been the main defense of all 15 schools. If the historical data is generally correct, even if recent data differs, the schools could be off the hook, say experts versed in insurance and education issues.
“The economy turned so quickly that, as long as these schools didn’t inflate their numbers for the class of 2011 when these students entered in 2009, I would expect that to be a defense,” said J.C. Wileman, a Los Angeles-based senior VP with Lockton Cos. LLC’s higher education practice. “I would predict that if schools are still accurate within reason on their statistics, they’ll probably get off on the bad economy defense.”
The schools sued to date are: Albany Law School; Brooklyn Law School; California Western School of Law; Chicago-Kent College of Law; Thomas M. Cooley School of Law; DePaul University College of Law; Florida Coastal School of Law; Golden Gate University School of Law; Hofstra University School of Law; Thomas Jefferson School of Law; The John Marshall Law School; New York Law School; University of San Francisco School of Law; Southwestern Law School; and Widener University School of Law.