Friday, June 15, 2012

Congratulations 2012 law school graduates: What were you thinking?

This is a post I started writing weeks ago -- but it seems like every time I opened my email, there was something new to add.

I started out looking at the terrible story out of Boston: A firm there offered a job paying $10,000 a year -- and got 32 applicants. (The link is to Martha Neil's May 31 article on ABA Journal Law News Now.)

Neil's post linked to Lisa van der Pool's May 31 post on the Boston Business Journal website. Ms. van der Pool's post included a screen grab of the Boston College Law School website where the below-minimum-wage job was posted; I've grabbed it in turn:

The job is not quite as terrible as the articles make it sound. Pay is estimated, based on what the new attorney can likely bill and collect on his or her own case load -- but if you read the ad, the firm would also provide malpractice and health coverage, a bus pass (so the impecunious lawyer can get to and from work), and even an employer-paid clothing allowance.

On the other hand, Boston College claims that the median salary of its 2010 graduates nine months after graduation was a heck of a lot more than $10,000 and a bus pass, even in the public sector:

Of course, charts like this recall to mind the phrase often associated with Mark Twain (though he attributed it to Benjamin Disraeli -- and Disraeli wasn't the source either): "There are lies, damned lies and statistics."

Who responds to salary surveys? Those who got the prestige clerkships and those who hooked on with silk-stocking firms -- or the ones flipping burgers?

In an article that appeared in the January 9, 2011 New York Times ("Is Law School a Losing Game?"), David Segal quoted Indiana University Law Professor William Henderson as saying, "Enron-type accounting standards have become the norm."

When a law school claims that x percent of its graduates are employed nine months after graduation, it means employed anywhere -- whether the job requires a law degree or not.
A law grad, for instance, counts as "employed after nine months" even if he or she has a job that doesn't require a law degree. Waiting tables at Applebee's? You're employed. Stocking aisles at Home Depot? You're working, too.
Segal's 2011 article said that February 15 was the magic date on which employment is calculated for purposes of the all-important U.S. News & World Report law school rankings.
A number of law schools hire their own graduates, some in hourly temp jobs that, as it turns out, coincide with the magical date. Last year, for instance, Georgetown Law sent an e-mail to alums who were "still seeking employment." It announced three newly created jobs in admissions, paying $20 an hour. The jobs just happened to start on Feb. 1 and lasted six weeks.
(Segal noted that Georgetown insisted that none of these graduates were counted as employed, but his skepticism about this claim seemed apparent.)

I couldn't help but think about the part-time Georgetown jobs when I read Jerry Crimmins's June 1 article for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, "University of Chicago pays for jobs for some 2011 law grads." Crimmins reported that the U of C released a chart (like the BC Law chart, above) which showed "stellar occupational achievements" by its Class of 2011.
The chart says 199 of 203 graduates, or 98 percent, got jobs. Of those, 181, or 89.2 percent, got jobs that require passage of the bar.

More than half, 117 of last year's graduates took jobs in law firms. Eighty-three of those grads took jobs in the nation's biggest firms with 501 or more lawyers.

Twenty were hired in highly sought after judicial clerkships.

The median starting salary for full-time, employed graduates of the class of 2011 is $160,000. This is based on salaries reported by 178 of 199 employed graduates.
However, according to Crimmins's article, the University of Chicago also announced that "at least 11 percent of its class of 2011 graduates took jobs that were funded by the law school," jobs "that are good for only one year."

In the current climate, it is perhaps not so surprising that the U of C is admitting that it has created jobs for a large portion of its 2011 graduating class.

Since David Segal's January 2011 article in the New York Times, suits have been filed against a number of law schools around the country, alleging various theories of fraud and misrepresentation, particularly in the disclosure of post-graduation salary and employment prospects.

The first of these may have been filed last summer against Michigan's Thomas M. Cooley Law School and New York Law School. Earlier this year, suit was filed against three Chicago law schools (DePaul, Kent and John Marshall). Ameet Sachdev's article for the February 2, 2012 Chicago Tribune reported that the "Chicago suits were part of coordinated attack on legal education mounted by New York plaintiffs attorneys David Anziska, Jesse Strauss and Frank Raimond. Nine additional suits were filed against schools in Florida, California, New York and Delaware." (See also, Michael Vasquez's March 22, 2012 article in the Miami Herald, "UM, St. Thomas law schools subject of fraud lawsuit" and a February 2, 2012 article in the Wall Street Journal, "Corporate News: Law Grads Claim Schools Misled," by Joe Palazzolo and Jennifer Smith.)

Now, even newly minted law school graduates should know that the mere filing of a lawsuit does not guarantee success -- and, indeed, the first results are encouraging for the law school defendants. Deborah L. Cohen reports in the June 2012 ABA Journal ("Few Jobs, But a Rack of Suits") that New York Supreme Court Justice Melvin Schweitzer dismissed the suit against New York Law School on March 21. According to Cohen's article, Schweitzer wrote, "The court does not view these post-graduate employment statistics to be misleading in a material way for a reasonable consumer acting reasonably."

In other words, if you were smart enough to get into law school, you should have been smart enough to see through the rosy employment and salary figures put out by all the law schools. A similar theme was sounded in Sachdev's February 2 Tribune article.
William Robinson, president of the American Bar Association, told Reuters in an interview last month, "It's inconceivable to me that someone with a college education, or a graduate-level education, would not know before deciding to go to law school that the economy has declined over the last several years and that the job market out there is not as opportune as it might have been five, six, seven, eight years ago."
Not as opportune?

On June 7, Lorene Yue posted an article on the Crain's Chicago Business website, "2011 law grads' job market worst in 17 years." Shaun Zinck's article for the June 7 Chicago Daily Law Bulletin was headlined, "Stats show dismal job market for law grads." Debra Cassens Weiss's June 7 article on ABA Journal Law News Now was headlined "Only 65 Percent of 2011 Law Grads Have Jobs Requiring Bar Passage, a Record Low."

Each of these articles cited to a report issued by the National Association for Law Placement (press release, selected findings).

These findings, bad as they are, may be understated. Ms. Yue, reviewing the complete NALP report noted, optimistically, that three Chicago area schools, the University of Chicago, Northwestern and Loyola, had employment rates that surpassed the national average calculated by NALP. (A chart from Ms. Yue's article is reproduced below.)

Encouraging, no?

Well... no. Remember Jerry Crimmins's article about the University of Chicago acknowledging that it created jobs for 11% of its graduates?

But though law jobs are scarce, even for graduates of the most prestigious schools, there's still plenty of debt to go around. Just yesterday, Rachel M. Zahorsky posted an article on ABA Journal Law News Now, "Law Grads ‘Indentured Servants’ to Loans, Law Prof Says; Law School Crisis a Symptom of Weak Economy." According to that article, the average law school graduate can expect a sheepskin and $150,000 in student loans.

That number may be a little high, at least as an average. Greg Moran, writing in the March 31, 2012 San Diego Union-Tribune quotes a U.S. News & World Report survey about how much 2011 law school graduates owe after graduation. Those owing the most come from these schools:

John Marshall Law School (Chicago): $165,178
California Western School of Law (San Diego): $153,145
Thomas Jefferson School of Law (San Diego): $153,006
American University (Washington, D.C.): $151,318
New York Law School (New York): $146,230
Phoenix School of Law (Arizona): $145,357
Southwestern Law School (Los Angeles): $142,606
Columbus School of Law at Catholic University of America (Washington, D.C.): $142,222
Northwestern University [Chicago]: $139,101
Pace University (White Plains, N.Y.): $139,007

Anyway, congratulations to the Class of 2012. Stop reading and go back to studying for the bar exam. Maybe it will work out for you.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great article. This is a disgrace. Many of these law schools should take their own ethics class and ask themselves if they are engaging in consumer fraud.