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Don't Blame Students for Getting Tricked into Law School

False advertising about job-placement rates may have duped people into taking out massive student loans.

Anyone who still believes that law school is a golden ticket to a high-powered job with a mid-six-figure salary evidently lives in some parallel world with no news coverage. Over the past four years of recession and glacial recovery, dozens of articles have reported on the trend of newly minted lawyers with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and no job prospects. And though media coverage of the problem has felt over-the-top at times—it can be awfully hard to pity people who elected to take out massive loans to go into an overcrowded profession—it seems to be having some effect: applications to law school were down 11.5 percent nationwide this spring.

Declining applications are a frightening trend for law schools that want to continue existing, so it's not surprising that many of them are working feverishly to find ways of distinguishing themselves from competing institutions. And, of course, one key way of doing that is advertising high job-placement rates and starting salaries for new graduates. Every law school in the country has a web page boasting impressive-sounding statistics about alumni employment. The only problem, according to two new law suits? Those numbers are completely fictional.

This week, alumni filed class action suits against Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Michigan and New York Law School in Manhattan, seeking millions of dollars in damages for false advertising. Neither law school is particularly well regarded, yet both claim that upwards of 80 percent of their students get jobs within a month after graduation. The plaintiffs allege the schools left out the minor detail that they were including everybody who had any kind of job—whether Supreme Court clerk or Starbucks barista—to make the numbers sound more impressive. New York Law School alumni say fewer than 50 percent of recent graduates actually are working as attorneys.

Unsurprisingly, much of the reaction to these lawsuits can be summed up in a giant eye roll. "New York Law School Students Suing School For Not Handing Them Jobs," The Village Voice concluded. It's easy to chalk this up to the tired narrative of entitled millenials finally learning that the real world won't cave to their every whim. But blaming the students doesn't seem quite fair. Being young and unemployed is scary territory, and knowing that enrollment in a third-tier law school gives you a 85 percent chance of having a good job in three years would be a powerful draw for anyone. There's widespread outrage when other colleges cook the books to attract more students and money—why should law schools get away with it?

Whether they win or lose their case, these law grads will have succeeded in drawing attention to deceptive student recruiting practices. And they'll even get some legal experience—just not the kind they expected when they enrolled in school.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user CubanRefugee

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