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May This Be My Final Warning to You About Law School

20120707-184136.jpgLaw schools have not always been entirely honest about employment statistics, including post-graduation employment rates, starting salaries, etc. Now, they’re beginning to let the reality slip out.

The news for would-be attorneys keeps getting worse. According to analysis from the Wall Street Journal released yesterday, only 55% of class of 2011 law school grads were employed full-time as lawyers nine months after graduation. The other 45% may be unemployed, working at Starbucks or starting their own law school hate blogs. Couple this with declining starting salaries (they fell $9000 between 2009 and 2010) and the fact that 85% of law school grads are facing an average debt load of $98 500 and you can see why law school as a career path has taken a public lambasting in recent years.

Why the suddenly dire news? Forbes can fill you in:

There’s a good reason that the WSJ’s data – based on figures from the American Bar Association – may seem shocking. It marks the first look at employment figures related solely to jobs requiring a legal degree and passage of a bar exam. Previously, law schools reported employment rates that counted all of their grads with jobs, regardless of whether they were working at a white-shoe firm in New York or teaching ESL in Taiwan. These misleading stats have actually been the subject of class-action lawsuits against 15 law schools filed by recent grads who allege that the schools used deceptive post-grad employment numbers to boost their rankings and attract more students.

Law school is now kind of like tobacco. The companies have been less-than-candid about certain key facts, such as whether or not their service is a worthwhile investment of substantial time and resources, or whether their product will fucking kill you. Now that the cat is out of the bag, there are no more excuses. People who smoked before we were all inundated with warnings about the dangers of cigarette smoke had a point in some of their lawsuits. People who smoke today have the benefit of much more information. Yes, I know it is hard to quit, but the evidence of why it is important to quit is out there. Now, people who are considering law school have some new information to factor into their due diligence.

Our elders may have told us to stay in school to have a better life, but we’re seeing more and more that this is pretty much bullshit.

Photo credit: ‘Hammurabi Code’ by Gabriele B. on Flickr [CC BY 2.0], via Fotopedia.

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Something’s rotten in the state of legal academia (or how law school is like a penis-enlargement supplement)

Via Andy Mergendahl at Lawyerist, we have this gem of a quote from a law school admissions officer:

I used to be amazed by how little research students did before deciding to go to law school. Thousands of hours and thousands of dollars are invested based on a school’s marketing materials, US News ranking, and a hunch. But there is a wealth of useful, and underused, data available online from sources other than law schools.

'Danger School Traffic Signal' by Jorc Navarro on stock.xchngTo provide a bit of context, solo attorney David Anziska has filed (so far) fourteen lawsuits against law schools related to inflated and otherwise-exaggerated employment statistics provided to prospective students. I’m not holding my breath that these lawsuits will get the plaintiffs any significant relief, but I think they may help put law school on notice that we are on to them. Since I have already commented on various shenanigans of Thomas M. Cooley Law School, let’s take a look at the complaint filed against them (PDF file).

Filed as a class action in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, MacDonald, et al v. Thomas M. Cooley Law School “seeks to remedy a systemic, ongoing fraud that is ubiquitous in the legal education industry and threatens to leave a generation of law students in dire financial straits.” Cooley allegedly pumps out up to one thousand new J.D. recipients every year, with four thousand total students at any one time on four campuses. The school’s marketing materials allegedly claim that seventy-six to eighty-two percent of its graduates find employment within nine months of graduation. The rub, according to the complaint, is that the school strongly implies that this number refers to full-time legal employment, when it actually refers to employment of any kind. At the same time, the school reported average starting salaries based on a small subset of employed graduates. Therefore, according to the plaintiffs, graduates whose sole employment one year after graduation is as a part-time dog sitter get counted as “employed,” but their salary might not be included in the statistics. All told, this is not information that would allow a prospective law student to make an informed decision.

The complaint goes on to discuss the non-intervention of the American Bar Association and various other miscreants in legal education. The plaintiffs, by and large, are Cooley graduates who couldn’t find a job and had massive student loan bills. They say they relied to their detriment on the promises made by Cooley’s admissions materials. They assert three causes of action: violation of the Michigan Consumer Protection Act, fraud, and negligent misrepresentation.

Let’s go back to the statement of the law school admissions official above. Mr. Mergendahl has a good analysis of it, but I think this sentence really cuts to the heart of these cases. Time and again, law school officials seem to invoke caveat emptor (buyer beware) in response to allegations of misrepresentation or outright fraud in employment and salary statistics. In other words, law schools are chastising law students for not figuring out that the law schools were lying to them.

To my knowledge, no court has ruled on any of these cases yet, so let’s say allegedly lying.

It’s actually a fair point, to a degree. There is a wealth of data available to prospective law students now (far more than was available even to me when I applied to law schools in the ancient days of 1999.) Any prospective law school who isn’t blinded by either a desperate search for a new path in life or giddy anticipation of the riches a law degree will bring can find this information. Anyone applying to law school from this point forward should be on notice: DO NOT TRUST EMPLOYMENT STATISTICS FROM LAW SCHOOLS!!!

That covers all present and future law school applicants. What of the people who were taken in by the promises of the moon and the stars in years past, only to find themselves left to fend for themselves when the bottom fell out of the law business? Perhaps they should have known better than to trust the marketing materials of a law school. Should that let a law school off the hook for essentially committing fraud?

By way of comparison, first consider tobacco. Anyone picking up a cigarette for the first time in 2012 anywhere in the United States has a wealth of information available to them regarding the health risks inherent in taking on that habit. Should they try to sue a tobacco company years down the road after they develop lung cancer, there is a good chance that a judge would laugh them straight out of the courthouse and into the street to get hit by a bus. This is because they would be making a decision to take up smoking in the face of extensive evidence of how doing so will kill you.

For people who took up smoking years ago, when information on tobacco’s tendency to turn you into a wheezing phlegm factory was less widely available, the answer is less clear. At any rate, judges and juries have concluded that tobacco companies are liable to people killed by their products, based at least in part on their tendency to understate the product’s deadliness. Misrepresenting or withholding key information has its consequences.

In the tobacco cases, misrepresentation or withholding of information had fatal consequences. Law school, generally speaking, does not kill people. It just saps their finances and leaves them riddled with debt. The debt is voluntary, but arguably obtained under false pretenses. For a less dire, much sillier analogy, consider Enzyte.

Anyone who watched television after 10:00 p.m. between roughly 2002 and 2010 remembers the obnoxious commercials with Bob, the middle-aged guy with the enormous penis. Or enormous grin, since the commercials couldn’t actually say that Enzyte would make your junk get bigger. They couldn’t say that partly because of FCC standards, and partly because they knew that would be pushing the bullshit too far. Of course Enzyte didn’t work. It’s easy to look back and think that only an idiot would think that it would work. That didn’t stop the Federal Trade Commission from prosecuting the company for mail fraud, sending several executives to jail and the company into bankruptcy. Even with completely asinine claims about their product, they still got into major trouble with the law. At least they didn’t kill anybody.

How is law school like a cigarette or a fake dick-embiggening pill? False or misleading claims induce a person who probably should have known better to invest resources into a product or service. That person suffers injury (e.g. death from lung cancer, personal embarrassment, or mountains of student loan debt). Legal liability ensues. The remaining population is wiser.

That said, people still smoke cigarettes, Enzyte is still on the market, and people are still applying to law school in droves while that admissions officer implicitly calls them fools. One thing I learned doing family law, which applies here, is that you often cannot save people from themselves.

Photo credit: ‘Danger School Traffic Signal’ by Jorc Navarro on stock.xchng.

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The New York Times tells us something lawyers have known for years

Yale Law School @ New Haven, ConnecticutNamely, that a law school degree does not prepare you to actually be a lawyer:

Law schools have long emphasized the theoretical over the useful, with classes that are often overstuffed with antiquated distinctions, like the variety of property law in post-feudal England. Professors are rewarded for chin-stroking scholarship, like law review articles with titles like “A Future Foretold: Neo-Aristotelian Praise of Postmodern Legal Theory.”

So, for decades, clients have essentially underwritten the training of new lawyers, paying as much as $300 an hour for the time of associates learning on the job. But the downturn in the economy, and long-running efforts to rethink legal fees, have prompted more and more of those clients to send a simple message to law firms: Teach new hires on your own dime.

And it gets better:

Law schools know all about the tough conditions that await graduates, and many have added or expanded programs that provide practical training through legal clinics. But almost all the cachet in legal academia goes to professors who produce law review articles, which gobbles up huge amounts of time and tuition money. The essential how-tos of daily practice are a subject that many in the faculty know nothing about — by design. One 2010 study of hiring at top-tier law schools since 2000 found that the median amount of practical experience was one year, and that nearly half of faculty members had never practiced law for a single day. If medical schools took the same approach, they’d be filled with professors who had never set foot in a hospital.

So yeah, you spend three years and tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars to learn all about the rule against perpetuities. I’ve been telling prospective law students this for years.

They’re called legal clinics. If your law school doesn’t offer them, find a new law school.

Photo credit: Yale Law School @ New Haven, Connecticut by polytikus, on Flickr.

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So You Want to Go to Law School: the classic movie

“I do not like my Blackberry. I would like to torture it until it begs me to kill it.”

“Science cleared that guy. A lawyer put his a** in prison.”

I soooooo wish I had written this.

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The Dogs of Law

Staci Zaretsky at Above the Law offers a snarky bit of mockery of a recent job posting at Texas Wesleyan School of Law:

Above the Law received word of this awful job listing from a current student at Texas Wesleyan University School of Law. Yeah, we know it’s not UT Austin, but the students there surely deserve something a little better than a job at Fort Worth’s Muttroplex Doggie Daycare.

[snip]

Can you imagine putting this on your résumé? “Oh, I see you had a part-time job during the summer of your 1L year… as a dog handler. Are you here for the custodian position we advertised on Craigslist?”

Seriously, dog grooming? At “Muttroplex”? When we first got this tip about an “awful dog job,” I thought it might be a low-paying post at some animal law and advocacy firm, or better yet, something from PETA. But no, this job is in no way, shape, or form related to the law.

[snip]

At least whoever takes this job will gain a keen sense of what being a lawyer is really like, in that you are constantly cleaning up other people’s sh*t. Only at this job, you get to keep your hands clean and use a pooper-scooper.

From AboveTheLaw.com

Yup, life is crappy for today’s law students (pun so totally intended). Personally, I think this may be an ideal job for a first-year law student, particularly one who might have gone straight through from high school to college to law school and has never had to work full time. Those tend to be the law students most likely to graduate and enter the job market thinking their solid waste effluent lacks strong odor–what better way to prepare them for the grim realities of life in the legal profession than to have them handle actual solid waste effluent? This may mark my official entry into the “get off my lawn” phase of my legal career, but a little dose of reality may be good for people expecting a six-figure income with little to no work experience upon graduation.

Besides that, dogs are awesome, and law school curriculum is not known for being fun or comforting. I am hard pressed to think of a better way to relieve first-year stress than to spend a few hours a day doing some paid canine therapy.

Law school therapy

Law school therapy

Now, I can see a problem or two with the idea of doing dog handling during or after law school. First of all, dog handling probably won’t get the student loans paid. I have my doubts that a dog handler, or even a dog trainer, could command the kinds of hourly rates lawyers charge.

The second problem, snarkily suggested by the Above The Law article, is that dog handling is somehow beneath a law student. To that I say: get over yourself. A law firm would be lucky to have an associate who would choose to spend time helping animals. Many lawyers and law firms might not appreciate it, but many lawyers and law firms are also #!$*&#’s. Some lawyers more than others.

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…and then there were 79

Two defendants in a certain lawsuit I have mentioned (in which I am also a defendant) have settled with the plaintiff for $5,000. From Eric Turkewitz’s blog:

Joseph Rakofsky, who sued 81 people and entities for defamation (including me), has settled his suit against two of them. The University of St. Thomas School of Law and one of its staffers, Deborah Hackerson, have paid Rakofsky $5,000.

A copy of the stipulation and release, obtained from the County Clerk’s office, is here: St.ThomasLawSettlement

University of St. Thomas School of Law, from newyorkpersonalinjuryattorneyblog.com

University of St. Thomas School of Law, from newyorkpersonalinjuryattorneyblog.com

Scott Greenfield noted:

Rakofsky graciously offered to settle the case with all of the defendants for the “nominal” amount of $5,000.  One would have thought that all the defendants laughed.  Obviously, not all.

It was silly, an extortion attempt by a child.  And they seized it.

What student could possibly go to a school that would pay off Rakofsky rather than tell him to go shit in his hat?  A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and nothing could be weaker than to succumb to paying off Joseph Rakofsky.

At some point, someone at this school is going to be charged with teaching ethics.  How does a school so utterly lacking in principle do this?  It can’t, but I guess no one thought of that when it approved of its insurance carrier buying its way out.

Mark Bennett wrote:

By settling with Rakofsky, the law school and Hackerson have painted a great big target on themselves for anyone else who wants to file a frivolous lawsuit. (Hear that, disgruntled unemployed St. Thomas grads? File that lawsuit; they’ll settle for nuisance value!)

Most of the defendants are fighting Rakofsky. They’ve joined together in several groups to share resources and hire counsel—not just because they can win the suit, but also because fighting is a matter of principle: they are fighting for free expression, and for the First Amendment. Because if you give one schmuck like Rakofsky money instead of utter humiliation in court, every schmuck whose feelings you hurt is going to file a lawsuit against you, and you’re going to have to either a) join the happysphere and stop speaking the truth; or b) spend your life settling vacuous defamation suits.

I can’t really add anything to that. I hadn’t been expecting any news about this case for a while. The plaintiff’s attorney has withdrawn and the next hearing isn’t until September 15, when the court will hear Marc Randazza’s motion for admission pro hac vice. I also had not planned on commenting much on the case. It’s just not any fun anymore. Still, this news is disappointing.

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Adventures in Academia: Widener Law School Edition

Here’s a humdinger of a case (big h/t to Scott Greenfield and ). Somewhat irritatingly, it has me agreeing with conservative legal writers who normally tend to annoy me. It’s best to try to lay out a timeline/summary as best I can:

I was not in any of this professor’s classes, obviously. I know that hypotheticals in law school classes can get pretty absurd by design, and hypotheticals involving the murder of a well-known person (like a dean) are not at all out of the ordinary. When I was in law school we did a whole play about it. I even had a large supporting role.

The controversy at Widener even seems pretty mild compared to controversies at my law school.

What troubles me is the seeming dominance of “political correctness” here, because law is perhaps one of the least politically correct professions in the world. Students who feel compelled to report to the administration when they are offended by a professor’s remarks on a specific case (where race was a major issue) are going to be in for a rude shock when they try to practice law in the real world. It’s a big old mess of gender and racial stereotypes, and as much as you may want to do everything you can to make the world a more harmonious place for people of all colors, creeds, and gender configurations, a lawyer’s first responsibility is to their client. I’d like to think that the law is getting more fair to everybody, but it is happening slowly, and under no circumstances is it intended to not offend those who might seek fairness. I see a steep learning curve ahead for today’s teacup law students.

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Remember the Rule Against Perpetuities?

Remember the Rule Against Perpetuities?  If you’ve never been to law school, then hopefully the answer to that question is no. (WARNING: this post is likely to be one giant lawyer inside joke.)

Black’s Law Dictionary (via Wikipedia) helpfully defines the Rule as:

[t]he common-law rule prohibiting a grant of an estate unless the interest must vest, if at all, no later than 21 years (plus a period of gestation to cover a posthumous birth) after the death of some person alive when the interest was created.

If you did not find that definition helpful, you are not alone. The Rule Against Perpetuities has been the bane of first-year property classes throughout the ages.  I learned it well enough to get a B in my property class and then promptly forgot it.

I was therefore quite surprised to learn that the Rule was recently applied in a real estate dispute that has stretched over almost a century:

Remember the rule against perpetuities? It played out in real life concerning a cantankerous Michigan lumber baron’s will, finally putting an end to a $100 million waiting game for his heirs.

Not allowed to collect their share of Wellington Burt’s fortune until 21 years after the death of his youngest grandchild in existence when the patriarch cashed in his chips, the 12 great-, great-great- and great-great-great-grandchildren among Burt’s surviving descendants are expected to see his trust open by the end of the month, the Associated Press reported. The heirs range in age from 19 to 94 years old.

Burt died in 1919.

It’s good to know that those weeks spent learning the Rule weren’t completely for naught. It provided us with hours of hair-pulling madness, and now, no matter how difficult a legal question may be, at least it’s not as bad as the Rule Against Perpetuities.

Plus, it led to at least one awesome parody:

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The University of Texas climbs the law school rankings!!!

Via Above the Law, the new U.S. News Law School rankings for 2012 have been released.  While this would normally hold no interest whatsoever for me, it is worth noting that the University of Texas School of Law is ranked #14, up from #15 last year.  This puts UT Law in the famed “Top 14″ law schools (why the key number is 14 is completely beyond me.)  Whether this increases the market value of my law degree or simply affords me bragging rights remains to be seen.

University of Texas logo, fair use

I just wanted to take a moment, as a proud UT Law School alumnus, to cheer or gloat or whatever.  Everything I learned about being a lawyer I learned…uh, in Austin after law school, but I got a good start at UT Law.  Plus, I met some great people and got a nifty diploma.

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