Lawsuits Over Job-Placement Rates Threaten 20 More Law Schools

March 14, 2012

Twenty more law schools on Wednesday found themselves in the cross hairs of a team of law firms whose spokesman predicted that "nearly every law school in the country" will face litigation over their allegedly deceptive job-placement rates.

The eight law firms held a news conference on Wednesday afternoon to announce that they were seeking to file class-action lawsuits challenging the following schools in late May:

American University Washington College of Law (D.C.), Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law (N.Y.), Chapman University School of Law (Calif.), Columbus School of Law at the Catholic University of America (D.C.), Loyola Marymount University Law School (Calif.), Loyola University Chicago School of Law (Ill.), New England School of Law (Mass.), Pace University School of Law (N.Y.), Pepperdine University School of Law (Calif.), Roger Williams University School of Law (R.I.), St. John's University School of Law (N.Y.), St. Louis University School of Law (Mo.), Seattle University School of Law (Wash.), Stetson University College of Law (Fla.), Syracuse University College of Law (N.Y.), University of Miami School of Law (Fla.), University of St. Thomas School of Law (Fla.), Valparaiso University School of Law (Ind.), Western New England University School of Law (Mass.), and Whittier Law School (Calif.).

The team filed a batch of 12 lawsuits in February and has vowed to sue 20 to 25 schools every few months. Three additional lawsuits were filed last year.

Graduates of the 20 schools owe an average of nearly $115,000 in student loans, the lawyers said. Seventy-five law-school graduates have joined their names to the earlier batch of lawsuits so far, David Anziska, one of the lead lawyers, said in a written statement. "But there are tens of thousands of young lawyers saddled with massive debt and few job prospects," he added. "I truly believe that at the end of this process, nearly every law school in the country will be sued."

The lawyers said several law schools had revised their employment data since the initial lawsuits were filed. The new data show much lower percentages of students securing full-time jobs and reveals that salary statistics are based on small percentages of students who reported their incomes, they said.

Referring to an early report from one of the schools, Mr. Anziska said, "It's almost as if Bernie Madoff was doing their numbers."

He said the team was hoping the law schools, under pressure from the courts, regulators, and legislators, would eventually enter into a "global settlement."

'Like a Dog With a Bone'

Spokesmen for several of the law schools contacted by The Chronicle said they couldn't comment until they'd had a chance to review the lawsuit.

Louis H. Castoria, a lawyer with the law firm Wilson Elser in San Francisco, is one of several lawyers who have been offering advice to law schools.

"While being careful about what's being put out to applicants is important, I'd hate to see a law school have to put out a five-page disclaimer and require applicants to take a blood oath that you won't sue if you don't get a job," he said. "Law schools don't control the economy."

Mr. Castoria, who chairs the firm's specialty professional-risk practice, predicted the plaintiffs would have a tough time proving their case. "There are a million different reasons why people choose a law school, and to say they went because the school reported an 89-percent job placement is going to be a hard sell," he said. He also said he doubted a judge would grant class-action status to the cases, given the wide variety of reasons people go to law school and the types of careers they pursue.

Robert B. Smith, a higher-education lawyer with LeClairRyan in Boston and former associate general counsel at Boston University, is equally skeptical. "Where are they going to get the resources to take on all of the nation's law schools? They're like a dog with a bone—they have their theory, and no court has ruled against them and they're emboldened."

He said the plaintiffs were not arguing their legal education was shoddy. "They're saying, 'I came out in a really bad economy with $100,000 in debt and I'm working as a barista,'" he said. "Welcome to the club. I don't know how anyone can look to the courts to remedy that."