Law Schools Sued After Grads Can’t Find Jobs

By Lisa van der Pool, Boston Business Journal

BOSTON (CBS) – For newly minted lawyers, nabbing that first job has grown extraordinarily difficult since law firms slashed ranks during the recession.

The legal community’s question du jour is:

Does that give jobless lawyers the right to sue their law school for their inability to secure high-paying legal work?

New York-based lawyer David Anziska thinks it does. He has already sued 15 law schools.

In the coming months he plans to sue 20 more by the end of May, two of which are in Massachusetts — New England Law Boston and Western New England University School of Law.

But Anziska, who has said in the press that 2012 will be the “year of law school litigation,” suffered a setback last week when New York Judge Melvin Schweitzer threw out the complaint he filed with the Supreme Court of New York against New York Law School, brought by nine graduates of the school.

Overall, the legal sector lost 45,000 jobs during the “Great Recession,” according to the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) in Washington, D.C.

Law school graduates from the class of 2010 faced the worst job market since the mid-1990s, with an employment rate of 87.6, a drop from 91.9 in 2007, which had been a 20-year high, per NALP.

Perhaps it’s not a surprise that in their frustration over the job market, lawyers are now suing their law schools. Local lawyers, however, doubt the complaints have legs given the fact that most prospective law students are highly educated and well aware of the shaky job market. The lawsuits have also caused some backlash against those young lawyers, who for several years have mainly garnered sympathy in the legal community.

New England Law Boston Dean John O’Brien defended his school in an emailed statement.

“New England Law Boston has not been sued or served in connection with any of the cases on reporting post-graduation career data. As we have communicated to our faculty, staff and students, New England Law has always provided accurate statistics about our graduates’ employment and believes any case against us would be baseless.”

O’Brien continued, “As the court in New York stated in its dismissal of a similar case against New York Law School, it appears there are those who want to hold law schools responsible for not anticipating the recession. The court pointed out that, although we all sympathize with those who are having difficulty finding work, their anger and angst are misdirected.”

Anziska’s complaints all allege that these law schools posted false employment data, which lead students to choose a certain law school.

The complaints seek class action status and damages from the schools.

The New York Law School complaint sought $225 million in damages and as well as a broader mission to “remedy a systemic, ongoing fraud that is ubiquitous in the legal education industry.”

Richard Campbell, president of the Massachusetts Bar Association and the founder of Campbell Trial Lawyers, who launched a law school task force last year, doesn’t think disgruntled young lawyers will get much support from the courts.

“I don’t hold out a lot of hope for those lawsuits,” said Campbell.

“The people who are applying to law schools are highly educated, they know how to read the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.”

Still, Wayne Dennison, a litigation partner with Brown Rudnick, says the New York judge’s decision may serve as a “road map for the next groups of plaintiffs” to craft a more persuasive argument.

Lisa van der Pool of the Boston Business Journal can be seen weekdays at 6 a.m. on WBZ-TV.

You can follow Lisa on Twitter at @lvanderpool.

  • emom

    Now that’s irony for you.. a lawyer suing the lawyer school. Next they will sue the professors, For teaching the too good. Or may be to good. A new breed of lawyers are waiting in the wind.

  • mikey

    It’s the height of hubris for these morons (if they were intelligent, wouldn’t they have a job? Or be doing private practice? Makes me think of Elle’s idiot boyfriend in Legally Blonde…) to think that they are ‘special’ and a protected class of individuals compared to all the other recent graduates (and even the general population) having issues in this economy.

    Maybe that’s the real problem. Law schools turning out new lawyers with a built in self-entitlement with their degree. Hmm, perhaps the lawsuit does have merit!

    No wonder people make lawyer jokes…

    • gramps

      Classic examples of the product produced by ‘Helicopter Parents’….!


  • Alexis MacLean

    that question is too funny to deserve a sensible answer

  • deebee

    another layer of the whole ‘entitlement’ generation.

  • D Ballum

    Ahh the irony….future ambulance chasers sueing ambulance chasers.

  • Petr

    The legal profession has turned into a big joke. Couldn’t these students see beyond the end of their noses? Law schools have been churning out way too many lawyers and not enough law firms to hire them. Hell, so haven’t other colleges……are we to see litigation from more students, other than law graduates, for the same issues? These suits on behalf of law students will fail.

    • JohnC

      I agree. Just look at the Yellow Pages. The “Lawyers” category is often the largest section in the book. I remember reading that the per capita number of lawyers is higher in the United States (by far) then in any other country. We need fewer lawyers. Anyone with the intelligence to enter Law school should know that.

  • Fenway Franklins

    Law school used to accept intelligent people who would have the forsight to know why they were studying law. Now, just like undergrad, they enroll anyone with a buck. We don’t need so many lawyers and we don’t want them.

    We do need MD’s though! What I would do for an American doctor…I love understanding what my MD says

  • emom

    I wonder how many others will follow SUIT,,,,,,,, Lets see,,, An art student suing because their art didn’t sell, a culinary student suing because their souffle fell, a fashion designer suing because their fashions didn’t sell…… WOW frivolous law suit will be on the rise for sure…

  • firemanmark

    Hey law school grads who think you are owed a job: try JAG in the Army,Navy,Marines…”You can’t handle the truth”!

    • Fenway Franklins

      Not a bad idea haha

  • wca

    It’s a shame that major news outlets like this one do such a poor job of reporting on this issue. First, the reason graduates are suing their schools is because they are claiming they relied on misleading and/or false information published by their law school in deciding to attend, not because they were unable “to secure high-paying legal work.” There is a difference between saying “my school guaranteed me a job” and saying “my school took advantage of me by presenting me with a false/misleading picture of the employment opportunities of past graduates.” Second, these reporters haven’t included a shred of legal research in their report, yet they talk like the suits have no merit. Third, they make a comment at the end of the video about how they assume the lawyer bringing these suits isn’t having a hard time making money… when they know his clients are all in debt and have no money to pay him. This is obviously a contingency fee suit. Get a clue, CBS Boston.

    • firemanmark

      Lawyers lied to? That’s Law 101. How can you tell when a lawyer (or law institute) is lying?Simple;their lips are moving!

    • April

      If any of these “lawyers” failed basic 101 of Adulthood – being responsible for your own decisions. I’d wouldn’t hire one of them to represent my dog.
      These people were foolish enought to have bought everything someone told them, hook line and sinker, without verifying? And they think they are law material?

      • Unemployed Attorney

        Sooo, I take it you are in favor of letting Bernie Madoff keeping all his money, since obviously his deci-millionaire clients couldn’t have possibly believed that he consistently netted double-digit annual ROI’s.

      • April

        to Unemployed Attorney; i think if someone is smart enough to get into law school, no small feat in of itself, they should have had the foresight to get a feel for the job market upon graduation. I have a child in college and have laid it out; sure do somehting you love, just make sure you’re going to be able to pay your rent with your degree. It has made her stop and think about her employement prospects upon graduation, and she’s had to make adjustments. it’s just common sense. It seems to me the law field has gotten overcrowded lately, imho. I don’t see a shortage of lawyers. Just because you want something doesn’t make it so.

  • GCS

    I will not name the law school that My Spouse attends but unless you are very close to a 4.0 GPA and allready have your Bachelors or Masters degree you will not be accepted. Out of 4500 applications there are just over 200 accepted per year. And you better have a great story about your life because even with a 4.0 you will be passed over. So these 200 students at this school are the best of the best. Its not Harvard, BC or BU .

    • Unemployed Attorney

      I see one of two possibilities, given the entry-requirements and class size:

      1) Yale, Chicago, or Stanford, all of which are ~200/class and require 4.0 GPA’s and nearly-perfect LSAT scores. I would say they are also the only three law schools where one is nearly guaranteed a job (Harvard Law is too large for perfect placement and Columbia is having recruitment problems).

      2) The local ~200/class law school – Northeastern – which is a death trap for debt and job prospects. I do hope it is the former.

  • Unemployed Attorney

    A few thoughts, as a recent, unemployed law school grad:

    – The suits were poorly written and executed, from many angles, and had little chance of success, and certainly don’t paint the plaintiffs in a good light. I would point out, though, that the Attorney General in Colorado successfully reached a multi-million dollar settlement with a for-profit college (Westwood College, I think) that made similarly misleading employment claims to entice students to enroll. I believe this has happened in other states as well.

    – law schools very heavily recruit based on employment salaries that were often based on very shoddy/misleading figures, some of which absolutely crossed the line between puffery and fraud. At least a few law schools here in Massachusetts not called Harvard claim pretty much exactly the same figures today as in 2006, despite a much worse employment market and the empirical evidence of dozens and dozens of their unemployed grads at every legal networking event in the state. Every accredited law school in eastern Massachusetts costs between $60k and $75k/year, and outside of Harvard, financial aid is pretty much nonexistent.

    – one of the primary reasons there are so many unemployed attorneys is that universities use law schools as cash cows, and have no incentive to decrease enrollment. Unlike the AMA, the ABA has never chosen to enact responsible caps on law school enrollment. In fact, New York Law School (which is a standalone law school) – the one who had its suit dismissed – increased its enrollment by 33% in 2009- the height of the recession – to secure the highest bond rating possible on its new $130 million building.

    – according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are ~45,000 annual law school grads for ~25,000 entry-level attorney jobs, at any salary level, including part-time and temporary work. The BLS does not expect this to improve before 2020. The NALP figures are based on ridiculous assumptions and have been called into question by many in the legal sector.

    Hanging a shingle directly after graduation is almost always a ticket to malpractice-land. Law school – any law school – simply doesn’t teach one how to PRACTICE law. Plus, running a small business like a law firm takes capital that most law grads don’t have and wont’ be lent. Anyone suggesting otherwise is out to lunch.

    – Last summer, the New York Times compiled a state-by-state survey of lawyers who pass the bar versus job openings. Here in Massachusetts, about 2500 people pass the bar every year for around 700 jobs. Finding employment is more a matter of luck than aptitude, to say nothing of the unprecedented rounds of layoffs in 2009 and 2010. Some large law firms downtown shed almost 20% of their headcount – mostly young lawyers from the best law schools, many of whom are still un/underemployed.

    – John O’Brien, the New England Law School dean quoted in the article, is also the chair of the American Bar Association Section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar. This section was recently tasked for revamping the rigidity of law school employment disclosures after heavy pressure from the media and Senators on both sides of the aisle over the last eighteen months or so. At the eleventh hour, this committee decided to require more detailed salary information; only what percentages of grads are in each type of job (private practive, gov’t, corporate, etc). This leaves the door for law schools to claim sky-high median or average salaries by cherry-picking only the best outcomes from their classes. I would point out here that New England Law School is ranked in the fourth and lowest tier by USNWR, yet Mr. O’Brien makes about $775,000/year according to the institution’s latest IRS Form 990 disclosures – an amount just a touch under what President Faust made two years ago… at HARVARD. Hmmm…

    – As I hinted above, the notion that some law schools are cooking the books is serious enough that Senators Boxer (D) and Grassley (R) have asked the DOE to launch an investigation, and may conduct Senate hearings on the issue. There is a legal paper written by two professors from Emory entitled “Law School Deans in Jail” outlining a litany of potential CRIMINAL charges that may come out of this fiasco. You can find it on the Chronicle of Higher Education, SSRN, and elsewhere. This is hardly a case of a few unemployed Millenials causing a fuss.

    – Last I checked, JAG acceptance rates across all branches of the military averaged about 8%, and NAVY JAG was about 2.5% Not really a viable option, then.

    – I know that everyone loves to get their schadenfraude on in regards to lawyers. Fair enough. Realize, though, that we are the canaries in the coal mine. Does anyone think that BU or Northeastern undergrad is worth $50k/year? There is a trillion-dollar student loan bubble about to burst. According to the NY Federal Reserve a few weeks ago, 1 in 4 student loans are delinquent, and 1 in 2 are in forbearance or deferral. According to Time, about 70% of college graduates had to move home last year out of financial necessity. Thanks to the nondischargeability of student loans in bankruptcy and their exclusion from literally every consumer protection law in the country, it’s going to become a real mess. Millenials are a bubble in the population, as the children of Boomers. We will be called upon, eventually, to support the housing market, consumer spending, the birth rate, etc. If a critical mass is permanently underwater on their student loans (to speak nothing of declining wages, the post-grad unpaid internship, etc), EVERYONE will be dragged down by it. In this age of global wage equalization and outsourcing and all the rest of it, only one nation on the planet has a higher education debt crisis. We are going to have to deal with it eventually.

    • 1stackmack

      typical lawyer,everything word for word.McDonalds is hiring.

      • Unemployed Attorney

        Please tell me why a fast food/retail/etc manager would want to hire a JD, or MBA, or MA/MS/PhD. They don’t. Overqualification is the secret cousin to underqualification. Both have the same result. Believe me, I have applied to jobs with my JD that I would have blanced at in the 11th grade.

    • firemanmark

      It WAS meant in jest.Lawyers are invalueable when you need one.I know,I was VP of my union and dealt with a great firm during my tenure.I also know quite a few and have a niece whose husband is in law school! Good Luck to you and I hope you get on board a good firm.

    • web

      I’m sorry you are out of work. I hate our litigious society, one that you have chosen to associate yourself with. But while I hate it, I am glad they are suing each other. When will these lawsuits end? I see no end in sight. And I’m sorry to admit, if they are, I’m glad law schools ‘cooked the books’ for job numbers. Serves lawyers right. They choose to ‘cook the books’ with facts and figures in the so many lawsuits we see…lie to help a client (and get their fee) no matter what cost. The cost to our society is high..too high.
      If you are educated, you can always find a way to help yourself. The whole legal field is a mess, Good luck in your job search…but I’ve asked before…can we sue judges and lawyers for creating and promoting a litigious society?

      • web

        one more comment, I just had this discussion with someone at work, I completely agree about the loan bubble…it can’t be sustained, and I foresee some major write-downs or a government bail out of some sort…it’s inevitable (and of course, we will all pay for that one too)…it’s almost as if you should say, go to the most expensive school because in a few short years, the government will write it all off for you…seriously.
        Lawyers are not the “canary in a coalmine’…they are just sue-happy so they thought of it first.
        And how about we use 100% of any lawsuit payout to fund early education…100%.. do you think the lawyers will go for it then?

    • dms

      Hats off, these are some impressive paragraphs. Law school certainly wasn’t a waste for you. However, I have a hard time believing that the top percentile of the undergraduate class would so easily buy into a scam. Who in their right mind bases such an important decision on a single source of information, especially on one that would benefit from the outcome of that decision?

      Like any other entity that’s in the business of selling a product, I’m sure the facts were massaged to their advantage, but don’t you think it’s the responsibility of the student to verify these numbers through a difference source? Kind of like the second opinion principle before I commit to 200K in expenses.

      I’m not saying that I approve of the schools practices but at the end I think there’s an equal amount of responsibility with the student and I think suing the law school is beyond ridiculous.

      The influx of law grads in the past 10-15 years is not all based on school marketing. A lot of it is based on personal greed and people not interested in law wanting to make big bucks and now the market is flooded and they’re whining.

      Anyways, you have some good points and I wish you best of luck finding a job.

      • web

        I agree. 6 years of school..and in all that time, not a day to research hiring statistics and odds? Plenty of time to switch majors I’m sure. Not all accountants have jobs, not all bakers, not even all doctors. I find it hard ot believe that these graduates would not go to these schools if only 94% of them would find work as opposed to 98%. Ultimately, the lure of the big salaries for those that do land work…that lured them all.

      • Unemployed Attorney

        @ web:

        It;s seven years to get through UG and law school, not six. Also, you say “research the statistics” as if there are alternate sets. Law schools self-report their students’ employment outcomes and salaries, based upon surveys they may or may not send out to the entire class. Those numbers would then be reprinted by US News, the ABA, and the NALP. There are no alternate statistics for prospective students to find; only articles like this – which didn’t appear until I had already passed the bar. When I was applying years ago, there was no dissenting voice against law school.

        It’s not 94% versus 98%. It’s 50% versus 98%, and less than 50% if we are goiing to set the entitled threshold of “jobs that require a law degree, are full-time, have health insurance, and pay a living wage.”

  • GCS

    Unemployed Attorney
    That was a very compelling writting.
    very very well written

    • Unemployed Attorney

      Thanks very much.

  • web

    I want to remind everyone here that if there is ever a payout, almost all of us lose…tuitions are raised to offset the higher insurance premiums caused by lawsuits. The schools won’t lose, they’ll be sure to break even. The only winners are….once again, the lawyers.

  • 1stackmack

    well ya can’t find a job in a country that has to many lawyers as it is.well you shouldn’t have blown your money on the college corse.there’s a popular quote in a movie you can repeat.”well the world needs ditch diggers too you know”.or get a cdl and go to work.if you can drive a 5 speed,the basic transmission in a truck is 10 speed, thats a 5 speed twice.

  • Marty Griffin

    I am sueing the Army because the only place I can drive a tank is in Iraq

  • JJ

    Why don’t these unemployed lawyers jump on the states payroll like the rest of the elected. Free healthcare, good benefit packages, and plenty of broke offenders that need free lawyers and the ability to keep raising taxes to pay for these highly intellegent spoon-fed students is unlimited

    • Unemployed Attorney

      The competition to get a $40k year PD/ADA/other state attorney job is just as brutal as getting hired by Ropes & Gray or WilmerHale. Plus, the state has had hiring freezes for new attorneys for years at this point. And as the old saying goes, the janitors cleaning Suffolk County courthouses earn more than the PD’s and ADA’s work operate in those courthouses.

  • fred

    Maybe there are just too many damn lawyers. Supply and demand. I guess they must not teach economics in law school.

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