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Law school graduates sue their alma maters

Published: Monday, Aug. 15 2011 11:57 a.m. MDT

Last week seven law school graduates decided to use their new degrees to sue their alma maters, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal.

The former students — three from New York Law School and four from Thomas M. Cooley Law in Michigan — are suing for tuition refunds and damages totaling $450 million ($200 million from NYLS and $250 million from Cooley), saying that the law schools misrepresented the number of graduates who get jobs in the field within nine months by reporting anyone who has a job and that the schools report a post-graduate salary that is not indicative of most graduates as it only reports those who complete the survey.

In fact, one of the attorneys, Kurzon Strauss, says that Cooley claims to have a 75 to 80 percent employment rate after graduation while he believes the number is less than 30 percent, according to an article on Michigan Live last week.

"The dirty little secret is that this is a common practice among law schools," Strauss told the outlet, adding that he believes Cooley and NYLS are simply "law degree factories."

Yet the law schools have told media outlets they stand by their numbers, and Cooley told The Wall Street Journal that if the former students have an issue with the numbers, they should take it up with the American Bar Association, which dictates the process.

"It's absurd that someone would come from our school three years ago, see our 76 percent employment rate and somehow say they were promised a job," Cooley's associate dean told Michigan Live reporters last week. "Unemployment is bad for everyone right now."

But even the American Bar Association has seen problems with the way schools report their numbers and is in the process of finding a new way for reporting employment rates, according to the Lansing State Journal. Currently schools are allowed to look at self-reported numbers by graduates and count students as employed even if they work part-time in a non-related field. Also, law schools calculate salary based on those who report them, often the highest earners, stated the Lansing State Journal.

And over the last year, this has brought quite the controversy.

Just last month, The New York Times reported that law schools have raised their tuition four times faster than colleges while also increasing enrollment numbers. The outlet mentions NYLS specifically in the piece, saying that although it's ranked in the bottom third of law schools in the country, it still costs a student $47,800 a year to attend — more than Harvard — and raised its class size by 30 percent in the fall of 2009. The article also questions other practices at and reports released by school over the years.

In January, The New York Times also wrote a piece titled "Is law school a losing game?" explaining the problems with post-graduate employment numbers from law schools and how students are duped into believing if they have a law degree even from a bottom-tiered school, they will make lots of money. The reporter calls law schools "cash cows."

But will any of this change the way law schools are run? Above the Law writer, David Lat, doesn't think so.

"The prospects for implementing any significant reform of legal education are dim, at least at the current time," Vat wrote in a piece last month. "There are simply too many entrenched interests that would oppose change."

Yet it seems there has been at least some public response — law school applications have been dropping in 2011, according to an article in The Washington Post on Friday.

For more information on the debate, read "The case against law school" by The New York Times or "When law school is worth the cost" by CNN.

EMAIL: slenz@desnews.com, TWITTER: saralenz

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