I'm no census taker, but California's lawyer to normal human being ratio has to have reached something like 32:1 at this point. I don't know how we all got here, but I'm embarrassed to recall the snooty air with which I told my parents one day, "You can't do anything with an English major but teach. And I, for one, am worth FAR more than what they're getting paid these days!" Next thing you know, I found myself carrying my weight in text books at a top 20 law school and hating every second of my life. All that kept me going were the persuasive words of a 3L on Preview Day:
Law school will be hard, but we're both going to be very rich after we graduate.
Apparently, I'm not the only sucker who got roped into the most expensive mistake of my life that way. Fourteen law schools nationwide have already been sued in two class action suits (Gomez-Jimenez v. New York Law School
and Macdonald v. Thomas M. Cooley Law School
) for fraudulent employment statistics, and the attorneys representing the outraged grads in this class action plan to sue ten more by Memorial Day. The main allegation
against all these schools is that they "committed fraud by inflating or misrepresenting their postgraduate employment data to lure students." Dave Anziska, co-counsel for the plaintiffs, adds
that these employment rates "just don't comport with the reality of the legal job market. We hope that litigation...changes the way legal education is marketed and provides compensation to those who may have been misled in the past."
Misled is right! Quickly scanning the list of named defendants, I see at least three schools I've never even heard of boasting a post-graduate employment rate of 98-100% of students. If lawyers who graduated from some of the most prestigious universities in the nation are suffering from this obscene market saturation, how can some of these smaller players promise students these odds with a straight face? Some of these schools even reported grossly exaggerated average salaries that were actually based on just "a small sample of high earning graduates." So even if in the best case scenario, 90% of a law school's graduates ended up being employed, a big chunk of this number included jobs that didn't even require a law degree, or that perhaps paid a little above minimum wage. The sour cherry on top of it all is the utter lack of compassion by the President of the American Bar Association, Bill Robinson. In an interview with Reuters
, Robinson played dumb and callously remarked, "It's inconceivable to me that someone with a college education...would not know before deciding to go to law school that the economy has declined over the last several years." While it's true that nobody forces anybody to go to law school, it's not inconceivable to me that an ambitious college grad would trust that an institution dedicated to the teachings of law and justice wouldn't lie about his entire future just to turn a profit.
Not only are law school grads pushed into nonexistent legal jobs because that's the only way they stand a chance of paying off all that crippling debt, but we're simultaneously blacklisted from any alternative careers we may have preferred. I love to write, so I pursued the degree I was told would get me the most gainful employment doing what I love. But the sad truth is that I was more marketable before I went to law school. Now, I'm a needle in the dime-a-dozen haystack of California lawyers who is suspiciously overqualified for entry level jobs in other fields, who has more degrees than many of the people who run the non-profits I'd prefer to work for, and labeled a flight risk who will up and leave once a legal job opens up elsewhere. In fact, a friend of mine started to leave law school out of her resume, which actually got her an interview for the first time in months! But as soon as the cat was out of the bag about the all too suspicious three-year long gap in her resume, her interviewer let her know "absolutely no J.D.'s need apply to this position, thank you very much!"
So the conclusion is not the simple one people like Bill Robinson would like it to be--that there are just too many lawyers and not enough firms hiring in this economy. Because this scam reaches much further than that. Yes, there is a huge problem with admissions directors promising six figures within nine months of graduation. There is also a problem with them insisting that "there are a million things you can do with a law degree." Because there aren't. There are a few. You can practice law. If you have the money by some other means, you can start a business. Or if you're lucky, you can work from home as a freelance writer and blogger living paycheck to paycheck, volunteer at a non-profit organization teaching kids to expand their writing skills, and wait for the day "law school" is no longer a scarlet letter on your resume. Maybe if I were a plaintiff in this law school litigation crusade, I could get my money back and start over: pretend I'm bright eyed, about four years younger, and can still afford an unpaid internship. Or better yet, I could get that teaching degree I always thought I was too good for.