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Posts Tagged ‘Law School’

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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People’s Law School, September 24, 2011

On Saturday, September 24, 2011, the Austin Bar Association and Lawyer Referral Service will host the People’s Law School at the Conley-Guerrero Senior Activity Center, 808 Nile Street, Austin, TX 78702. The People’s Law School is a community service offering free classes to the public on various legal topics. A People’s Law School is held twice a year in February and September. The schedule for September is as follows:

Schedule for the September 2011 People's Law School

More information on classes, registration, and directions is available here.

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Solo lawyers are not prostitutes

Photo by ehpien

I got a surprisingly small number of results when searching for royalty-free images labeled "pole dancer" on Google (photo by ehpien)

The title of this post may be offensive to some. Especially to prostitutes. I got the idea from a post from The People’s Therapist, in which he compares practicing law at a big law firm to doing sex work.

Many of my big firm lawyer clients aren’t sure what they’re doing at the office or why they’re doing it. You keep showing up in the morning and keep leaving at night. Sometimes you aren’t doing much of anything. Other times you’re slaving away at a task you half-understand. People keep smiling and saying hello when they pass you in the hall – and that paycheck, the point of the exercise, keeps getting deposited in your bank account. As long as the firm keeps paying – heck, you’ll make phone calls, chase down research, prepare a closing table, do doc review…or whip quivering buttocks, dance on a pole, or murmur gentle exhortations while your toes are licked. What’s the difference? Who cares?

I’m not entirely sure if this is more a denigration of big firm lawyers or of sex workers, or of both equally, or of neither. I think the point is that big firm life is an unpleasant slog done almost exclusively for the money, with about as much emotional appeal as licking toes (unless you’re into that, of course). At first, his post put me in mind of my quasi-libertarian arguments on why much sex work shouldn’t be criminalized the way it currently is (a topic for another post later, perhaps), but then he went on to address the type of legal work he (presumably) respects.

It does raise an issue: Are there lawyers who aren’t prostitutes?

I never shook off a strong regret surrounding my legal career – that I never learned how to practice law. You know – real law. Like when your friend calls because his cousin got arrested for a DUI. I have no idea what to do with a DUI. I wasn’t even a litigator – I was on the corporate side. I wouldn’t know where to start.

Here are some other things I know next to nothing about, other than in some vague, theoretical bar exam sense:

How to file for divorce.

How to close on a house.

How to write a will.

How to handle the legal necessities of a small business.

At this point, if a friend rang up with any legal question short of how to prepare for the closing of a multi-million dollar merger – or proof a securities offering – my advice would be useless.

There are lawyers out there who are not proletarian sex workers, right? Lawyers not owned by the capitalists. Lawyers who possess the means of production (as Uncle Karl would say.) Lawyers who crawl out of bondage and ascend to the petite bourgeoisie. Lawyers who “hang a shingle” and do real law. Lawyers who work for themselves.

I have never worked for a big law firm, nor have I ever desired to do so. What I have done is nearly all the work listed above. I have filed (or defended) over a hundred divorces. I have closed on sales of houses, both as an attorney for a party and as an escrow agent. I have written a will. I have seen dozens of new businesses through their “legal necessities.” I am secure in the knowledge that my work over the past nine years has benefited real people, not just giant faceless corporations. I have made a difference, for good or ill, in the lives of hundreds of people (maybe more).

What’s the trade-off? Money, of course. A friend at a big firm was once telling me about a new, small case his firm has just started. I asked him what constituted “small” in his universe, and he told me that they expected about $100,000 in legal fees. That would have been a good two-year period for me at the time. Many of my law school classmates made upward of $120,000 in their first year of practice, while I earned the rough equivalent of minimum wage (since most revenue went to overhead).

At times I think there is no single legal profession, but rather those who practice for ordinary folks inhabiting the same earth as lawyers who practice some astronomically larger, yet infinitely less personal, form of law. There are also government attorneys, but they do not fit in my dichotomy so I will not mention them again. I do not even have a real concept of what these well-paid, overworked lawyers actually do during their 40+ billable hours per week. I encountered some confusion as to my daily routine from big firm colleagues as well. Courtroom time and “client contact” are like the proverbial pot of gold to many young big firm associates; I had both in droves within the first few months of my practice (and found them a mixed bag at best.)

I’m happy to know that I am not a prostitute (again, no offense intended to prostitutes by comparing them to lawyers). I’m also flattered to know that at least some big firm attorneys look at the sort of practice I have had with something that resembles admiration or even envy. I can honestly say that, aside from the big paycheck, I do not feel that I missed out on anything I wanted by choosing my path. Each lawyer has their own path to follow, and each path seems to lead to one of two worlds (or government).

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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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I see defamation cases everywhere……

I’m still going with the perceptual vigilance theory. The latest is that Thomas M. Cooley Law School of Lansing, Michigan is suing a New York law firm and four anonymous bloggers for…..

wait for it……

…..defamation, for saying mean things about the school online (and, in the case of the law firm, for posting Craigslist ads re: a potential class action lawsuit against the school similar to the one filed against Thomas Jefferson School of Law earlier this year).

In one lawsuit, Thomas M. Cooley Law School, located in Lansing, Michigan, claims that it has been the victim of ads on Craigslist and Facebook – posted by attorneys at Kurzon Strauss LLP – seeking former Cooley law students to join in on a potential class action suit against the school. (Click here for an example.)

One of Cooley’s concerns with Kurzon Strauss’ online postings regard the school’s student loan default rate, James Thelen, the school’s general counsel, told the Law Blog.

For instance, the law firm allegedly claimed that there were reports of Cooley law grads “defaulting on loans at an astounding 41 percent” in various online posts, according to the papers filed by the school. Thelen claims the actual rate is 2.2 percent.

In the second lawsuit, also filed Thursday, the school claims that four “John Doe” defendants have been blogging and perpetuating online comments damaging to the school’s reputation, Thelen said to the Law Blog.

Cute squirrel, photo by Dawn Huczek, http://www.flickr.com/photos/31064702@N05/

No matter what, I hope campuses will always have cute squirrels

Golly.

First off, I cannot think of a better way for a law school to take a relatively minor and obscure series of comments and complaints (in the form of the bloggers) and make it into something that could be known nationwide (cf. Streisand Effect). The scambloggers are going to have a field day with this. Let the battle begin…..

Second, in a lawsuit claiming damage to a law school’s reputation as a premier educational institution, the law school’s choices so far have been interesting, as Elie Mystal reports:

So far, the most damning statement about Cooley’s education has come from Cooley itself. Cooley president Don LeDuc said that the school filed these suits: “to protect Cooley’s reputation and stand up for our students and more than 15,000 graduates.”

And yet, of those 15,000 graduates, when it came time to defend Cooley’s reputation, the school went with lawyers who were not educated at Cooley.

Not only did the school not use its own graduates for this work, one of the anonymous commenters the school is suing appears to be a recent Cooley graduate. I mean, with friends like these, right?

Third, and I’m just brainstorming here, but isn’t it inevitable that a law firm, in seeking members for a class action, would say things about the potential defendant that would be construed as less than nice? Here’s an example of a firm seeking class members. And here’s what Kurzon Strauss posted to Craigslist re: Cooley:

My firm is currently conducting a broad, wide-ranging investigation of a number of law schools for purportedly manipulating their post-graduate employment data and salary information. Among the many schools we are investigating is the Thomas M. Cooley Law School which claims that 76 percent of its graduates have allegedly secured employment within nine months of graduation.

Finally, let me note the irony (if that is even the correct word) of a law school suing a law firm for defamation because the law firm is seeking plaintiffs for a class action fraud suit against the school. Cooley has to prove that the allegedly defamatory statements made by the law firm are not true, which is similar to the position Cooley would be in if the fraud case were to go forward (although the burden of proof would be on the other side there). Depending on procedural rules in Michigan, Cooley may have just opened itself up to discovery into all of its various claims regarding, say, employment statistics for its graduates.

The law school issued its own statement the day the suit was filed:

The Thomas M. Cooley Law School filed two lawsuits today to protect the reputation of the school and its students and alumni from defamatory Internet attacks. In the two actions, the law school asserts defamation and other legal claims against a New York City law firm, two lawyers in that firm, and four anonymous Internet bloggers.

“With ethics and professionalism at the core of our law school’s values, we cannot – and will not – sit back and let anyone circulate defamatory statements about Cooley or the choices our students and alumni made to seek their law degree here,” said Brent Danielson, Chair of Cooley’s Board of Directors and a retired District Court Judge.

[snip]

“Cooley has consistently and truthfully reported job placement and salary figures in the manner required by the American Bar Association (ABA), our accrediting agency, and by the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), a national jobs-reporting clearinghouse,” said Charles Toy, associate dean of Career and Professional Development at Cooley and the immediate past president of the State Bar of Michigan.

Consistent with all 201 ABA accredited law schools, Cooley’s job placement rates are reported annually to the ABA and NALP nine months after graduation based upon the results of graduate surveys in full compliance with the reporting methodology required by those agencies. Cooley’s reported job placement rates have ranged from the current 76 percent up to 82 percent in 2006, with a similar range reported back to 2000.

“Everyone has the right to state an opinion about Cooley, online or elsewhere,” said James B. Thelen, Esq., Cooley’s associate dean for legal affairs and general counsel. “But our lawsuits contend that these defendants have crossed the line both legally and ethically, -
smearing our reputation with blatantly false and often vulgar statements that they attempt to spread as broadly as possible.”

[more at the above link]

The complaints against the law firm and the anonymous bloggers are posted on Cooley’s website, where they will apparently be posting updates on the case. Between this and the Thomas Jefferson class action, it will be interesting to see how each side of this whole kerfuffle presents its case. Time for everyone to put up or shut up. Grab some popcorn (if you can afford some after making this month’s student loan payment, of course.)

Of course, these are all just the opinions of one guy with an interest in defamation law. Please, Cooley, don’t sue me.

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