The Law

Glut Leads Lawyers to (Surprise) Sue Law Schools


Glut Leads Lawyers to (Surprise) Sue Law Schools

Photograph by Henri Silberman/Workbook/Getty Images

More bad news for beleaguered young lawyers who can’t find paying work: A state court judge in Manhattan says they can’t sue their law schools for fraudulently marketing the profession as a secure source of employment.

You read that correctly. Things have gotten so desperate in the overstuffed ranks of newly minted attorneys that scores of them have taken to filing suit against the institutions that issued their J.D.s on the theory that the schools bamboozled them into paying nearly $150,000 in tuition for a three-year degree that leads to department-store sales jobs.

In a ruling this week, Justice Melvin L. Schweitzer of New York Supreme Court took a dim view of the leading suit in this litigation wave, which was aimed at New York Law School. ”In this court’s view, the issues posed by this case exemplify the adage that not every ailment afflicting society may be redressed by a lawsuit,” Schweitzer wrote. He dismissed a suit brought by nine graduates who accused their alma mater—New York Law School, not the more prestigious New York University Law School—of misleading them about their employment prospects.

College graduates “seriously considering law schools are a sophisticated subset of education consumers, capable of sifting through data and weighing alternatives before making a decision regarding their postcollege options,” the judge said. In recent months, at least 14 law schools, including Widener University Law School in Delaware, Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Detroit, and Southwestern Law School in California, have been targeted by such suits.

Celebrating its dubious victory—this can’t be the kind of litigation law professors and deans hope to see their pupils engage in—New York Law School said in a statement that it “works hard to communicate the realities of the legal job market to current and prospective students.” The school has ranked near the bottom of U.S. News & World Report’s annual listing of the nation’s best law schools, The Wall Street Journal reported. Tuition is $47,800 a year.

Perhaps, as an alternative to unpromising civil actions against their former teachers, U.S. law school grads need to think more expansively about the job market. All kinds of professionals are following the money trail to China, where business is booming.

In Beijing and environs, of course, there are pressures of other sorts on lawyers. The New York Times reports this morning that the Chinese Ministry of Justice has ordered new lawyers to swear a loyalty oath to the Communist Party. The mandate is being interpreted as a warning against representing political dissidents. The oath states: “I swear to faithfully fulfill the sacred mission of legal workers in socialism with Chinese characteristics. I swear my loyalty to the motherland, to the people, to uphold the leadership of the Communist Party of China and the socialist system, and to protect the dignity of the Constitution and laws.”

On further consideration, maybe the answer to the clogged American legal services market is to choose another field. Word apparently is filtering back to college campuses, the Times reports, and the number of people applying to take the law school entrance exam has been falling sharply.

Barrett, an assistant managing editor and senior writer at Bloomberg Businessweek, is author, most recently, of GLOCK: The Rise of America’s Gun.

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