Law Schools Should Be Held Accountable for Their Dammed Lies & Statistics.

February 12, 2012
Courtesy Wikipedia.

The are three types of lies. Lies, dammed lies, and statistics.

-Mark Twain

[Disclaimer: this is a bit of a rant. It may also fall into the category of tl;dr. You’ve been warned]

A while ago, Jordan posted an article berating “whiny graduates” for filing a “silly lawsuit” against “a Reputable Institution of Higher Learning and Legal Education” (read: heavy sarcasm) more properly known as Widener Law.

Though I respect Jordan and admire his zeal and self-determination, he’s totally wrong here.

Law School Employment Statistics are Bogus (Not News Anymore).
It’s an open secret that law school employment placement numbers are lies. Schools manipulate placement data to support their claims of 90% employment and six-figure salaries. Admissions offices entice new college grads with claims that a J.D. is a ticket to opened doors and unlimited potential – that it makes you more valuable and attractive to other employers. This is not true.

I don’t want to be accused of sour grapes, so I want to tell my own law school admission story, that you all might understand my perspective here.

I worked at Starbucks Coffee through my college years. I’d wake up around 4.00-4.30am, shower, dress for work, and then make my way to the shop. Generally, I’d work from 5.00am to 1.00pm, after which I’d head down to school for night classes, which ended after 9.00pm.

At some point, like many kids, I decided to act on my long-time-dream of becoming a lawyer. So I studied at home for the LSATs, took them, and did pretty well. While my score wasn’t going to get me into Harvard or Yale, I essentially had my pick of the schools I applied to in Philadelphia. I was given very generous offers by both Temple and Drexel – which boasted a brand new school.

At the time I applied (2006), all the law schools here in the Philadelphia region reported around 90% employment rates and average salaries greater than $75,000.00. (This was a lie then, as it is now).

Ultimately I decided to take a risk on the new school with the thought that I’d be part of an exciting new school that fight hard to make its name and thereafter support its small network of alumni. Because Drexel was a new school, it didn’t have the same employment statistics as the other in the City – but I had little concern because the legal job market seemed universally rosy. Hell, I was the first student who accepted his offer to Drexel’s 2010 class.

I now know that because of the dodgy self-reporting requirements for employment statistics, I didn’t have a complete picture of the job market. I doubt any law school applicant really did because everyone was playing hide the ball.

When I accepted at Drexel, I knew I wanted to be a trial attorney – maybe beginning in a DA’s office or working in a BigLaw firm for a few years to pay off my loans – and eventually opening my own practice.  Like many of my classmates, I thought I understood that new law grads generally got picked up by firms for a few years, where they either stayed and made partner, or left to start their own own practices.

This is what I was sold by every single law school’s admissions office.

Not a single person in any admissions office cautioned that legal jobs were scarce, BigLaw jobs were scarcer, and that very few attorneys ever end up working at BigLaw jobs. Everything they said pointed quite to the contrary. Now I realize I should have known better because the folks working there are salesmen – there’s no duty for them to tell the truth.

In fact, the only person who told me anything approaching the truth was a night professor at Temple. When I asked him to for a letter of recommendation for my application packet, he cautioned: “There’s a huge oversupply of lawyers right now. It’s a very difficult market. You should be sure that you want to be a lawyer.”

Law School Starts, Where are the Jobs?
Like Jordan, I worked my first year of law school, starting again as a Barista at the Starbucks right by Penn.

But those 5.00-9.00a shifts made it really difficult to stay awake for my 9.15a classes, so after a few months I quit to focus on my studies. By the end of the first year, I ended up somewhere around the top 25% of the class, and according to the career office, I should have been picked up for a summer associate position.

Unfortunately, I quickly learned that despite what the career office told us, “Top 10 or Go Home” was the hiring model of most firms, and I ended up interning with a judge for credit and taking summer classes. I wrote onto law review as well, hoping to bolster my apparently-inadequate resumé. I wasn’t able to get a paying legal job anywhere.

My second year began with OCI season, where I interviewed for as many OCI bids as I could get (two or three, I think).

I struck out for any number of reasons – nervousness, inadequate grades, not enough experience, etc. Only recently, I learned that one employer passed me over becuase I looked “too sharp” and didn’t fit it at the firm. (Let that be a word of caution for you snappy dressers).

Disheartened, but not deterred, I applied for another judicial internship during my 2L year, which I ultimately landed. After that, I worked at a local DA’s office, realized I could never be a DA, and spent my third year as a clinical student at the Philadelphia Defender Association.

Which gets me to my point. I never once walked into my career office and asked “How much can I expect to make when I get my law license?” In fact, other than a quick resumé review, I never asked the career office for anything because I realized I had to do it myself. The market had tanked, recent grads were being fired left and right, and my career office was useless to do anything to help. And I realized that my career office – and every other career office at every other law school – had been lying to us.

What only a year or two prior was a vision of employment at a firm and an “average salary” of $75,000.00 a year –  that the career office at my school had a distinct role in perpetuating – was now a scramble to develop as many practical skills as I could to prepare myself for the inevitable “learn by the seat of your pants” model.

So I joined SoloSez, read Jay Foonberg, and took as many practical classes as I could to prepare myself for what I was my sole remaining choice: starting my own practice out of school.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy where I am. Solo practice is ultimately where I wanted to be – my schedule was just accelerated a bit. I have a few other classmates who also saw the writing on the wall, bunkered down, and started their own practices. I think it required a mix of stubbornness & savvy for us to do this. Maybe some stupidity too.

Some of my classmates are stuck in Doc Review Purgatory, hoping that they’re kept on a $25/hr project long enough to pay their rent and loan bills for the month.

Others abandoned the practice of law altogether after what felt like a futile search for legal jobs.

Bottom Line for Schools – Tell the Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth.
Thousands and thousands of new lawyers are admitted each year without any market demand for them. Law school tuition is at an all-time high. Legal employment is at an all-time low. The ABA president, William Robinson, instead of doing anything to help alleviate the crisis, is instead calling unemployed grads idiots:

It’s inconceivable to me that someone with a college education, or a graduate-level education, would not know before deciding to go to law school that the economy has declined over the last several years and that the job market out there is not as opportune as it might have been five, six, seven, eight years ago…

Well, Bill – It’s inconceivable to me that someone who’s the president of the American Bar Association would spit in the face of the future generation of duped law grads who fell for the systematically manufactured employment and salary data.

These schools are committing fraud. They make material misrepresentations about salary and employment data, and defend themselves with the weak excuse “oh, but this is all self-reported data that we can’t audit!” Baloney.

Schools drum into us the importance of ethics. We’re required to disclose everything about our backgrounds to be admitted to law school, and then again to be admitted to the bar. Character and fitness is an element independent of one’s actual bar exam score necessary to be admitted to practice law.

And yet, these schools claim innocence? “We’re just doing what NALP tells us!” they say.

No. They know exactly what they’re doing. And these suits might just get their attention.

Parting Thoughts in the Overused form of Open Letters.
To those plaintiffs suing Widener: You have my full support. We need transparency in these stats. These schools know what they’re doing, and it’s wrong.

To Jordan: I read nowhere in the complaint that these kids wanted a ticket to easy money. Might they have been too gullible to rely on these stats? Perhaps. But there was also no reason to doubt them. Why would a school lie to its students?

These students simply wanted to rely on the statistics that their school published so they might reasonably rely on sound data for their chances of employment. They hoped only that the school to hold itself to the same Code of Conduct it expects its students to follow:

Section 201. Academic Misconduct Violations. It shall be a violation of the Code for a student to commit any of the following acts or omissions. Academic misconduct for purposes of this section includes both the curricular and extracurricular, regardless of whether academic credit is awarded.

***

(c) Misrepresentation. 

(1) To misrepresent a material fact with respect to academic performance or requirements.

I look forward to the ensuing litigation. Hell, I hope they fight it out in court. I want to see these pleadings.

Note: Leo isn’t just picking on Widener, but challenges all law schools who continue to knowingly use misleading, incomplete statistics to recruit unknowing wannabe lawyers to work toward real transparency in their employment statistics. Schools – live up to the standards you expect your students to live by. 


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