Cross-posted by Forbes.com at WLF contributor site.
Sometimes in life, you reap what you sow.
In law school, you succeed on your exams, especially in classes like Torts, by identifying as many causes of action in a fact pattern as you can. Law schools indoctrinate students to believe that creative, plaintiffs’-side lawyering equals successful lawyering.
While it’s normally businesses that suffer at the hands of lawyers who have fully embraced such law school inculcation, now law schools themselves have become targets of ambitious class action lawyers. The National Law Journal reported yesterday that lawyers who have already sued 14 law schools for (allegedly) fraudulently reporting inflated post-graduation employment numbers are poised to sue another 20 schools. The lawyers’ theory seems to be that schools inflated the numbers to get a better U.S. News and World Report ranking. Students in turn relied upon those numbers when applying, and that now that they’ve graduated, are jobless, and are weighed down with six-figure debt, the schools should compensate them for their plight. According to the National Law Journal article, two Emory Law School professors have even argued that law school deans have committed federal felonies.
One targeted law school has argued in a motion to dismiss that the school was simply following American Bar Association guidelines for reporting employment statistics. The presiding judge wasn’t too impressed with that argument (nor was he enamored with the plaintiffs’ claim that law students are “unsophisticated consumers”), but no ruling has been issued yet.
Considering the general public has little love for lawyers, one can imagine how the plaintiffs’ arguments would fare in front of a lay jury. Following the strategy regularly deployed against business defendants, the class action lawyers here have no intention of going to trial. They want to file as many class action suits as they can, and then survive some motions to dismiss. They can then use the specter of discovery to force settlements. One of the lead lawyers said as much to the Law Journal when noting that he hopes the ABA will step in to broker a global settlement.
Did the law schools cook the employment figures? We have no idea. But we can’t help but chuckle (maybe even laugh out loud) at the spectacle of class action lawyers representing unhappy law graduates suing law schools that preach the righteous cause of creative litigation.