You’re Smart Enough to Graduate Law School, Are You Stupid Enough to Sue It?

Courthouse News reports that “a $200 million class action claims the New York Law School misrepresents post-graduate opportunities for lawyers and subjects ‘the overwhelming majority’ of its graduates to ‘years of indentured servitude’ after ‘saddling them with tens of thousands of dollars in crushing, non-dischargeable debt that will take literally decades to pay off.’ ”  The plaintiffs accuse their school of “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.”

Oh, for crying out loud.  This again?

Look.  Nobody forced you to go to law school; it was your own choice.  Nobody forced you to go to that particular school; it was your own choice.  Nobody forced you to take on more debt than you could reasonably afford; it was your own choice.  After your first year, and it became clear that someone with your grades from your school wasn’t likely to be making the big bucks, nobody forced you to keep going and to take on even more crippling debt.  It was your own choice.  You were a college graduate, an adult, presumably capable of making your own life decisions.

The school did not “saddle” you with debt.  You did it to yourself.  And now you regret it.  Frantically trying to blame anybody besides yourself for your own foolish decisions only makes you look… well… foolish, at best.  At worst, it’s almost like the girl who regrets her drunken orgy and accuses her fellow partiers of gang rape.  Either way, you certainly don’t come off as someone with the requisite judgment and brainpower to make it as a lawyer.  Are you sure it’s the school’s fault you’re not making it on the outside?

Here’s some more from the complaint:

[The] school consigns the overwhelming majority of them to years of indentured servitude, saddling them with tens of thousands of dollars in crushing, non-dischargeable debt that will take literally decades to pay off. New York Law has done this while blatantly misrepresenting and manipulating its employment statistics to prospective students, employing the type of ‘Enron-style’ accounting techniques that would leave most for-profit companies facing the long barrel of a government investigation and the prospect of paying a substantial civil fine. These deceptions are perpetuated so as to prevent prospective students from realizing the obvious – that attending NYLS and forking over nearly $150,000 in tuition payments is a terrible investment which makes little economic sense and, most likely, will never pay off.

Specifically, NYLS, through both its print and internet marketing materials, commits two basic written, uniform misrepresentations. First, the school during the class period claims that the overwhelming majority of its graduates – roughly between 90 and 95 percent – secure employment within nine months of graduation. However, the reality of the situation is that these seemingly robust numbers include any type of employment, including jobs that have absolutely nothing to do with the legal industry, do not require a JD degree or are temporary or part-time in nature….

Second, NYLS grossly inflates its graduates’ reported mean salaries, by calculating them based on a small, mostly self-selected subset of graduates who actually submit their salary information….

There are so many things wrong with this.

The biggest problem is that, if you really were defrauded, then you had to be basing your decision on whether to go to this particular law school based in large part on how much money its graduates make.  If that’s not true, then none of this is material enough to be fraudulent.  Fraud basically means that, but for the misrepresentation, you wouldn’t have spent the cash.  If that is true, then you have no business being a lawyer in the first place.  You’re in it for the money, and don’t belong here.  You selected this law school not because you thought it would help prepare you for a life of service, but because you thought you’d be able to get “a job” and make “good money.”  Those are the wrong reasons, entirely.

Even if one were to concede that these were material considerations to the plaintiffs in this case, it is hard to imagine that anyone would have thought they really were all that material.  Would law schools really think their students are so mercenary that the main reason why they chose one school over another was the average alumnus salary?  That’s absurd on its face.  But it’s a prerequisite of the complaint.

And where is the deception, in the first place?  The complaint does not say that the school made up numbers out of thin air.  They only allege that the school honestly reported information which the plaintiffs then misconstrued.  Perhaps one could throw the plaintiffs a bone and say post-graduation employment figures would reasonably be expected to refer to legal employment.  But the salary information was what was reported.  There is no deception in reporting the numbers they got.  The school did not “inflate its graduates’ reported mean salaries” — it simply revealed them.

From what’s been reported — here and elsewhere — there just doesn’t seem to be any merit to this case.  We don’t see how it could possibly survive a motion for summary judgment.

As a work of chutzpah, however, it’s pretty good.  It’s not the same as killing your parents then seeking mercy because you’re an orphan, but saying your school owes you a fortune because you shouldn’t have chosen to go there?  It’s up there.

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5 Comments

  1. Nathan, August 12, 2011:

    Just saw a great comment on a Reddit discussion about this suit: los_angeles wrote that those who go to TTT schools are ” ‘people not overly concerned that their schools’ prestige will confer great employability on them.’ Suffice it to say, their minds won’t be changed by more transparent employment stats.”

    Then there’s enphaux, who wrote that he/she “never once said I was [going to law school] for some altruistic purpose. I did it because of the [employment and salary] numbers presented to me by my school.” Dear lord, they really do exist. No wonder some people despise lawyers, if mercenary attitudes like this are what they encounter.

    Link to the discussion: http://www.reddit.com/r/law/comments/jglje/law_students_sue_ny_law_school_for_200_million/

  2. Anonymous Coward, August 14, 2011:

    A blogger (I am NOT him) has a great response:
    http://restoringdignitytothelaw.blogspot.com/2011/08/of-course-salaries-matter-at-these.html

    One excerpt pretty much says it all:
    At these tuition levels, often paid by non-dischargable debt, salaries have to be considered, and they have to be material in determining whether to go to law school and which school to attend, for everyone.

  3. Anonymous Coward, August 14, 2011:

    I would also point out that there is NOTHING WRONG with law students going to law school so that they’d be able to get “a job and make good money.” That is what students in pretty much all other professions want. To suggest there is something wrong is complete and utter nonsense. You should definitely go only if you think you will want to practice law, but there is nothing wrong with wanting the payoff to be worth the cost of attending.

    Law schools is a professional school that people pay hundred of thousands of dollars in order to get a job and at least get a reasonable return on investment of time and money. That is what law schools are marketing. If law schools told people that they are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars but told people that you can’t expect to make reasonable money and have to live in poverty and you should only attend to live a “life of service” (whatever that means), I can guarantee few would go!

  4. Nathan, August 14, 2011:

    You make some good points, and it would be foolish to claim that making a decent living isn’t a legitimate concern. It is. But the thing about the law is, if making money is your primary concern, then you probably should not be doing it. Practicing law, that is. There is nothing wrong with making money as a lawyer. There is nothing wrong with making an absurd amount of money as a lawyer, if your services are worth it. But there is everything wrong with being a lawyer so as to make a lot of money. The moment your bottom line becomes the important factor, that’s the moment you crossed the line from serving your clients’ interests above all to putting your own interests first. The law is like medicine and the clergy — your interests come second to those you are helping. People who think otherwise should not become priests or doctors… or lawyers. Unfortunately, we get a number of mercenaries who look at the profession and think to themselves “hey, what a way to make a fair amount of cash!” Those tend to be the same people who wind up giving the profession a bad name.

    To repeat, however, there is “NOTHING WRONG,” as you say, with making a lot of money as a lawyer. But there is “EVERYTHING WRONG” with becoming a lawyer for the purpose of making a lot of money. See the difference?

  5. LGonzales, March 11, 2012:

    I would like to know, did these schools hide the costs of tuition from prospective students? Students should independently research job prospects in their chosen career field, regardless of what a school tells them. This is just common sense!

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