Law school litigation: what to expect in 2012.
After graduates from New York Law School and Thomas M. Cooley School of Law (Mich.) accused the schools of misinterpreting graduates' employment and salary statistics and filed class action suits against them last summer, two firms have warned they are planning to go after other law schools this year.
"Really it's part and parcel of the consumer movement coming to education," says Robert B. Smith, a higher education attorney with the firm LeClairRyan, who has been following this trend for about six months.
Law School Transparency, a Tennessee non-profit dedicated to encouraging and facilitating the transparent flow of consumer information, announced on its website that two law firms, The Law offices of David Anziska and Strauss Law PLLC have stated their intention to jointly file class action lawsuits against 15 law schools in California, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, New York, and Pennsylvania.
The students stepping forward represent the minority, not the majority, of law students. And the suits don't reflect dissatisfaction with the learning experience itself--just the outcome. In fact, results from the 2011 Law School Survey of Student Engagement show that 83 percent of law students reported that their experience in law school was good or excellent, and 80 percent definitely or probably would attend the same school if they got the chance to start over.
"There's really nothing about education that guarantees an outcome for any of us. These schools were not selling outcomes, they were providing an education," Smith says. "The idea that outcomes are guaranteed is ludicrous." And, he points out, students shouldn't have been assuming that employment stats from the year they entered law school--pre-economic downturn--would be the same once they graduated.
If at all successful, these lawsuits could have implications for higher ed as a whole. Smith believes for-profits would be the first to be targeted, and that some students or lawyers "will be emboldened to try to apply it to other programs."
"We have to vigorously defend these things, that's all there is to it," asserts Smith. "This is an attack on the fundamentals of what education is and what education is all about and they need to be defended very, very seriously."