Sunday, September 11, 2011

Law School Students v. Law Schools

Law graduates from Michigan and New York law schools have begun a class action lawsuit against their alma maters:
The two class-action suits were filed by graduates of New York Law School in lower Manhattan and Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing, Michigan, amid growing scrutiny over whether law schools across the country are deliberately concealing the truth about their graduates' employment and salary in order to enroll more students despite their dismal job prospects.
The actual suit can be found here.

The plaintiffs argue that the two law schools fudge their post-graduate employment statistics to make the potential for legal employment as a result of attending the schools more possible, and certainly they are not the first to claim this: the New York Times recently reported that law schools in the United States routinely juke their graduate employment numbers to attract students, at the same time as law school tuitions in the United States have skyrocketed. This comes at a time when the "don't go to law school" chorus is louder than ever.

Law schools in the United States are extremely profitable, and both the New York Law School and Thomas M. Cooley Law School both had incoming 2009 classes of over seven hundred students. For purpose of comparison, the largest law school in Canada is Osgoode Hall at York University. Osgoode's incoming class in 2009 was approximately 300 students. For further purposes of comparison, Thomas M. Cooley has approximately 280 full-time and adjunct faculty servicing its student body, while Osgoode has approximately 240 - for less than half the number of students.

(While we're comparing Thomas M. Cooley to Osgoode Hall, here are two other comparisons: Cooley's annual tuition is approximately $34,000, while Osgoode's is approximately $16,000, and Osgoode is widely considered one of the best law schools in Canada while Cooley is not considered one of the best anything.)

Naturally, the students' action is going to be difficult. Forcing the schools to be more transparent in their employment statistics may be possible; however, getting their tuition back (and the claimants seek $250 million in damages) will require them to demonstrate that the law schools were purposefully dishonest in their presentation of employment statistics and that the student claimants were influenced by these statistics, which is not impossible but certainly not easy.

In the meantime, Thomas M. Cooley Law School has responded to the suit by filing a motion to force an internet provider to disclose the personal information of various bloggers who anonymously criticized the school in posts such as The Thomas M. Cooley Law School Scam," presumably because the school wishes to launch action against those bloggers for defamatory statements. Which only serves to make Cooley appear to be getting defensive about the claims made against it.
- Christopher Bird, Toronto
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