Widener Law Gets Sued for “Law School Scam” in Silly Lawsuit by Whiny Graduates

Clients Do Not Know the Difference Between T1 and T4

As some of you know, I started out at Widener Law before transferring to Temple Law.  I’ll be the first one to tell you that I got a top notch legal education at Widener, despite the school being ranked a Tier 4. (Whatever that means.) Today I was surprised to learn that my sort of alma mater is getting sued for allegedly misleading students because of they way they report employment data.

According to the lawsuit, several students were led to believe that they were guaranteed some sort of high paid job in the legal profession when they graduated.  Once they enrolled in law school, they continued to believe they were guaranteed a high paying job, despite seeing how difficult it was to obtain legal employment each summer. (except, of course, the students who were too busy partying abroad studying abroad)  They also complain that the schools had the audacity to give them part time jobs after graduation while they were looking for meaningful legal employment. Oh, the horror…

I have always been grateful to Widener Law. I was not exactly a stellar undergraduate student, and my LSAT score was a 149 and a 150. According to some, I was the kid who “shouldn’t go to law school.” However, Widener was willing to take a chance on me. I will always be grateful to Widener for accepting me with poor my credentials, and giving me many opportunities to show what I was capable of.

Now, when I accepted at Widener, I didn’t have a great vision for what my legal career was going to look like.  I had always assumed I would be a self employed solo practitioner or maybe a prosecutor. It didn’t really matter. I just knew I wanted to be a lawyer, and I had no expectations of what I would be paid.

I did well my first year of law school and it landed me a good job. Where at? Ruby Tuesday in the Concord Mall.

Later in the summer I managed to find employment working for a solo practitioner, who is still a dear friend of mine.  I would work for the solo practitioner making $18 an hour during the week and then wait tables on the weekends.  I had it made.  It was enough cash to live off of, and I was getting paid to learn how to practice law on someone else’s buck. Sometimes I wondered who got the better end of the deal – me or the solo. While many would balk at making under $20 an hour in the legal profession, consider this:  a few years down the road, the solo practitioner still sends me work he is too busy to handle. He is also always willing to lend me an ear when I have a tough problem, career questions, marriage issues, or anything else. Often establishing a relationship is more valuable than the immediate money you make. Although I made some money working for the solo over the summer, the real “value” would not pan out until years later.

Which gets me to my point. I never once walked into my career office and said “How much can I expect to make when I get my law license?” That seemed like a stupid question. First, let’s say I had landed that biglaw job making $130k right out of the door. What if I only kept it a year? What if I got laid off, and then didn’t have a skillset that translated into smaller legal markets?  Second, what if I continued working for the solo practitioner making $18h/r, and then came across a big personal injury case and got a huge generation fee on it?  Third, what if I didn’t make much money out of the gate, but a few years down the line my practice had grown and the phone was ringing?  The question of how much money to expect, at least to me, seemed like something that just couldn’t be answered. The question would be akin to “Will I like my job?” or “How much will I work?” Well, that depends on a lot of different things, and the answer can change over time…

For anyone who wants to sue their law school, this is my opinion: law is a profession. It’s not a ticket to easy money. You can’t expect your law school to tell you how much money you’re going to make because no one can answer that question. It will change over time, and much of it will be based on your ability to perfect your craft, generate clients, run a business, and add value to those you serve.

Why not use your time productively? Instead of wasting your time in a lawsuit against your school, why not spend that time getting better at being a lawyer? The practice of law is a marathon, not a sprint.

UPDATE:  A copy of the Complaint against Widener Law can be found here.

The plaintiffs are John Harnish, Justin Schluth, Edward J. Gilson, III, Robert Klein, and Robert McFayden.  They claim that had they “been aware that WLS‟s reported placement rates included temporary and part-time employment and/or employment for which a JD was not required or preferred, [they] would have elected to either pay less to WLS or perhaps not attend the school at all.”

According to the Complaint, Harnish is a bartender.  Schluth is unemployed. Gilson opened his own firm. (Edward J. Gilson, III maintains an office at 8001 Roosevelt Blvd.  Edward J. Gilson, Jr. also maintains an office at the same address.) Klein is working for the federal government in a non-legal capacity. McFayden works for a management company in a non-legal position.

They are asking for “the partial restitution and disgorgement of tuition monies remitted to [Widener Law School],  totaling $75 million, which is the difference between the inflated tuition paid by Class  members based on the material misrepresentations that approximately 90-95 percent  of graduates are employed within nine months of graduation and the true value of a  WLS degree”, in addition to damages, attorneys fees, and punitive damages.  They are also asking for “injunctive relief ordering that WLS retains unrelated, independent third-parties to audit and verify post-graduate employment data and salary information.”

Stay tuned…

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13 Responses to Widener Law Gets Sued for “Law School Scam” in Silly Lawsuit by Whiny Graduates

  1. Leo M. Mulvihill, Jr. says:

    Can’t suing one’s school make one a better lawyer? Also, I’m curious who is counsel for Widener.

    From Widener Law’s Career Page:

    Graduates of the Class of 2010 had a 93% employment / advanced degree program participation rate. This rate includes full and part time legal, law-related and non-legal positions as well as advanced degree program participation within nine months of graduation. For more information, please download a comprehensive summary of employment statistics (PDF).

    For what it’s worth, I think there is definitely an element of fraud in many law schools’ employment and salary statistics. When I applied, every school in the area listed a $75k average starting salary and 90+ percent employment. Should I have been mildly skeptical? Possibly. But where every school in Pennsylvania says the same thing, academic advisors back them up (and so do other attorneys), and you’re making $10.36 an hour at Starbucks, it seems dammed probable that you’ve a good chance of employment.

    Perhaps this is best reserved for another post…

  2. Then I think they expected too much. It’s impossible for a first year lawyer to add value to a client’s needs that would warrant a six figure salary. You grow into your abilities as a lawyer, and as you get better, you grow into commanding higher rates. Better clients will hire you for more complex needs.

    Any student who didn’t realize this doesn’t understand the practice of law. They think it’s the business of law.

    • Leo M. Mulvihill, Jr. says:

      From page 1 of the complaint:
      “PRELIMINARY STATEMENT
      ‘Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants…’ – Justice Louis Brandeis”

      No student should understand the practice of law. That’s why they’re students.

      The schools should teach both the practice and business of law. But because of $22,500.00 federally guaranteed dollars per student per year, they can charge whatever they dammed well please and essentially fabricate income and employment statistics to entice those who don’t know any better.

      Though at this point, there’s little excuse to not know any better, as the “scambloggers” (give them what weight you will) are everywhere now.

  3. [...] while ago, Jordan posted an article berating “whiny graduates” for filing a “silly lawsuit” against “a [...]

  4. [...] Oh, and obviously, don’t go to law school because you think it’s a ticket to easy money. [...]

  5. Christina says:

    It would be wise to read the Complaint before writing an uninformed and inaccurate blog about the suit. Neither the Complaint nor any of the Plaintiffs say anything about expecting a “guaranteed high-paying job.” Salary is not an issue at all in the lawsuit, yet it seems to be the focus of your diatribe on these “silly graduates.” Rather, the Complaint is in regards to ANY full-time legal employment, regardless of position or salary, including employment at small, boutique law firms making $20 an hour.

    Moreover, none of these graduates allege that Widener “guaranteed” employment post-graduation. All these graduates expect is that Widener not publish deceptively misleading information to entice students. It is not unreasonable for a prospective student to see statistics quoting a 90+% graduate employment rate and expect that there is a pretty good chance (not guarantee) that they can find legal employment and practice law, at any salary, following graduation. When the truth is that barely half of the students graduating from Widener have found full-time legal employment 9-months following graduating, including students who graduated at the top of the class, then there is something serious amiss with the value of a Widener degree. I agree that Widener provided a solid legal education, in theory, but in the job market, the employers unfortunately do not agree. The only way for prospective students to know how much a Widener degree is worth in the job market is from employment statistics – statistics that Widener intentionally falsely reported in order to hide the fact that their degree is not worth the outrageous tuition they charged (a tuition, I might add, that is much higher than similarly situated law schools.)

    Please know your facts before you report such disparaging remarks.

    • Ann says:

      Looks like Temple didn’t really teach him all that much either. It’s a shame many new attorneys seem to take this approach, speak first and scrutinize the facts later, if at all.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Agreed. This article is very misguided. For one, the characterization of the Plaintiffs’ arguments in the law suit is not accurate. Two, half of the article is spent boasting about the author’s own hard work and commitment to the practice of law. Fact is, Widener published misleading information intended to draw students to the school. The assertion that law students should be smarter than to fall for such practices is not relevant. If this law suit leads to schools providing more honest numbers, it was worth it.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Just to update you folks. The District Court just denied Widener’s motion to dismiss, on nearly ever ground of reasoning. Guess it’s not such a silly suit after all…

  8. Ann2323 says:

    Strange how your legal skills were advanced enough to transfer you out of Widener to a better school yet you cannot spot the key issue of the claim, which is: Widener was stating employment rates with the implication that these employment rates were in the legal profession when they are not. The point being made in the claim is not necessarily the yearly salary of a graduated and successfully employed attorney WITHIN THE LEGAL PROFESSION but rather that the employment opportunities in the legal profession are simply not available to recent licensed graduates of Widener. For example, under the current misleading statistics, a barista at starbucks would be considered “employed” in the school’s purpose of over inflating the value of their own law school program. Leads me to believe you had the same subpar legal methods writing professor as myself your first year at Widener, as you clearly misidentified the pivotal issue upon which this claim was based. Pardon the lack of a concise conclusive sentence, after all I attended Widener…

    • The only reason Temple is “better”, for me, is because it was in the city of Philadelphia and the tuition was cheaper. I decided I didn’t want to practice in Delaware.

      I understand the statistics are “misleading”. But how didn’t you figure out there was no work available when you started applying for summer jobs as a 1L? I was top of my class at Widener, and after sending out hundreds of resumes I got one call clerking for a solo. Pay was $18 an hour. At that point I realized six figures wasn’t the norm.

      Did you blindly rely on the career offices statistics when you took out your loans? Did you stay there based on those statistics? If so, it sounds like you simply wanted to believe.

  9. [...] Check out this interesting and relevant viewpoint on the Widener Law School suit. [...]

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