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.
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.”