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Caveat Emptor?
December 4, 2012 6:52 PM   Subscribe

After several failed attempts against other schools, a lawsuit against Thomas Jefferson School of Law for providing misleading employment data to prospective students is moving forward.
posted by reenum (42 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Someone divided by zero.
posted by Malice at 6:57 PM on December 4, 2012


A lawyer friend gave me a book of lawyer jokes... but if I can invest the Aliens Vs Predator tagline:
Whoever loses, we win.

This seems very strange. Insane, even.

For one thing, don't you make a decision to become a lawyer at least four years before you graduate? Things can change a lot in that time.

Anna Alaburda — a 2008 graduate who claims she has struggled to find full-time legal work — turned down a $60,000-a-year job with a Southern California law firm not long after she graduated

I wonder why? (Second link isn't loading for me. Could just be me).
posted by Mezentian at 7:08 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


For one thing, don't you make a decision to become a lawyer at least four years before you graduate? Things can change a lot in that time.

I never cease to be amazed by the number of students entering law school thinking they're doing it to "learn how to think like a lawyer" and then enter one of the many imaginary non-lawyer careers where having a law degree is an asset worth the investment of time and money. It seems like a significant number of law students make the decision to become a lawyer about two weeks before on-campus interviews during their second year.
posted by The World Famous at 7:12 PM on December 4, 2012 [9 favorites]


TJSL is a predatory institution that survives by playing off the ignorance of its consumers. Consumer Protection law is designed for exactly these sorts of situations - where a vendor sells an unsafe product while lying about its value. I'm amazed at how many otherwise left-thinking people are so quick to blame law students who were taken advantage of by institutions that lied about the value of a diploma.

Yes, there are larger cultural trends about the value of a law degree, behavioral effects like optimistic bias, familial pressures, an otherwise weak economy, and other elements that play a role here. But TJSL is as bad as any unaccredited online school that lures students in with blatantly false promises about employability.

There's plenty of evidence of willful mischaracterizing of employment statistics to let the suit go forward. They are literally cooking the books to get as many students to pay as much as they can for a worthless degree. Students have rights too.
posted by allen.spaulding at 7:23 PM on December 4, 2012 [11 favorites]


Having read the Wiki page on the school something's up with what they are doing.
Still, I'll bet their rep is in the toilet now.
posted by Mezentian at 7:36 PM on December 4, 2012


Mezentian: "Anna Alaburda — a 2008 graduate who claims she has struggled to find full-time legal work — turned down a $60,000-a-year job with a Southern California law firm not long after she graduated"

How would the cross-examination not be "so you turned down a job within months of graduating?" for just, like, hours on end? I'm not taking their side, and I think I've got a pretty good record about post-degree employment threads, but seriously, you turn down a job?
posted by boo_radley at 8:08 PM on December 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm amazed at how many otherwise left-thinking people are so quick to blame law students who were taken advantage of by institutions that lied about the value of a diploma.

Light carefree version:

In the commission of a crime -- namely the crime of setting out to be a lawyer -- there are no accidents.

More serious version:

There is a very real dislike of lawyers in the U.S., on both sides of the political fence. They are second only to dead babies in our love of distasteful jokes. They are most often associated with words like "greedy", "venal", and "amoral". Virtually everyone really does hate lawyers until they need one.

It's not like this is a new thing either. It's been going on since at least Henry VI, part 2. Kids may sign up for law school with the best intentions, but they're unlikely to be unaware of the reputation they're also signing up for.

So you set out to become something that society finds odious and you get scammed. That's too bad for you, you didn't deserve to get scammed, but it's not realistic to expect a lot of sympathy for your plight.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:08 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Spending 4 years in law school for a 60k a year job is a fucking joke considering the 200k (without interest) cost of the degree. Throw in undergrad debt and anyone who went that direction with their lives could rightfully claim to have gotten fucked by life.
posted by Veritron at 8:21 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


In some industries 60k would be called paying your dues.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:55 PM on December 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


Reasonable chance that $60k/year job expected 80+ hours per week.
posted by kafziel at 8:57 PM on December 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


There are certainly plenty of good reasons to turn down a job in your general field. Perhaps they wanted her to relocate, or the job responsibilities had little to do with her specialty, or she didn't think she'd be a good fit for the culture of the practice, etc., etc.

However, I'm having a hard time seeing how "I have too much debt to take that job" is a reasonable position unless taking that job makes it significantly harder to find some better job later on. Isn't it better to lose 50% of your take-home pay to student loans than to have no take-home pay at all? (Not to mention that the job would provide experience, networking, and just generally the opportunity to burnish credentials. All of which should make it easier to find a better job down the line.)

You may not have set-out with the consolation prize as your goal, but at some point you should realize that the consolation prize is better than going home empty handed.

(Of course, none of what I said has anything to do with whether she was defrauded, and if she was defrauded she deserves compensation.)
posted by oddman at 9:00 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is a very real dislike of lawyers in the U.S., on both sides of the political fence. They are second only to dead babies in our love of distasteful jokes.

Which is an interesting fact that shows progress. Lawyer and dead baby jokes are basically identical to all of the old racist/outsider/queer jokes that people can't be overheard telling any longer. The difference is that dead baby jokes are for kids, because they don't know what lawyers do. The progress is that lawyers can defend themselves, literally, and dead babies can't be picked on in the schoolyard.
posted by Brian B. at 9:46 PM on December 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


unless taking that job makes it significantly harder to find some better job later on

That is my understanding of how legal hiring works. (At least from people I've known who attempted to, and in some cases did, get jobs at the big white-shoe NYC firms.) There are so many candidates coming out of law schools, there's no need for the firms to consider anyone who isn't at a very specific point in their educational/career path. If you take a job offer from a second-tier firm, you're never going to move up to a top-tier one. That's it, you're done; the path is closed to you from that moment on. Or even earlier, since some firms only give offers to students who have previously interned for them. (Leading some students to actually retake their 2L year in order to get another swing at post-2L internships; an insane doubling-down if I've ever heard of one.)

I don't think that the students at TJSC are competing for those white-shoe firm slots, but I suspect the same sort of dynamic exists at their end of the market. Whatever job you get first probably defines the trajectory of your career in an irreversible way, so it might make perfect rational sense to turn down a $60k job offer ... if you really thought that you could land one the next month for $80 or $100k, or doing something with more upward mobility, or whatever. But the key is that rational expectation of a better offer, and that doesn't seem very realistic.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:50 PM on December 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


Isn't it better to lose 50% of your take-home pay to student loans than to have no take-home pay at all?

What if it's closer to 100%, and you lose your deferment and your ability to find a better job? Plus you've been misled by their fake employment reports? I can see how someone would feel they're better off rolling the dice.
posted by snickerdoodle at 9:58 PM on December 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


We don't allow people to sell toasters that are likely to explode in your face and kill you. This is a good thing. Literally nobody should go to TJSL. It's an exploding toaster and it hurts a far higher percentage of its customers than anything the CPSC would allow on the market.

There's a part of our culture that thinks education is somehow special - that telling someone they can't get an education is different than telling them they can't buy Ketchup with rotten tomatoes in it or children's toys with lead. This has led to institutions like TJSL (and many others) profitting immensely while immiserating their students.

We are better off as a society shutting down these factors that convert dreams into debt - especially those that lie as they do it. I could open an astronaut school in my basement and charge 20k a semester to train astronauts. And none of my students will ever be astronauts. Our belief that education is always good and that everyone should follow their dreams and that anyone could get a lucky breaks leads to cesspools like TJSL. Those cultural beliefs may not change quickly, but at the very least we can shut down the bottom-feeders.

Want some proof? Force TJSL to hire their own alums to defend themselves in court. They won't. Would you?
posted by allen.spaulding at 11:05 PM on December 4, 2012 [17 favorites]


There is a very real dislike of lawyers in the U.S., on both sides of the political fence.

When the guy you are suing 'founded the business' 40+ years ago, drove that into the ground and after coming outta Club Fed for fraud, re-did the business 25 years ago, drove THAT version into a 1+ million tax debt and a 2 year state tax fraud lock-up and is 'just a consultant' in the 3rd go round and claims he's "an agent" of a business on a lease for 5 months before the State incorporated the business .... the lawyer claim not only how "he's not the owner" but also submits "signatures" which are 'a cloud of dots' along with the notary stamp also suffering from "100-150 DPI reproduction issues" --- is it any wonder that 'cum laude' law grads are seen as a joke by people who have to deal with 'em?

How about the lawyer I know who tried strangling his wife to death, who was charged with 2nd degree attempted murder (and missed a court date - felony bail jumping) who STILL has is bar card?
posted by rough ashlar at 11:29 PM on December 4, 2012


We are better off as a society shutting down these factors that convert dreams into debt - especially those that lie as they do it.

Such lies have been going on for years - so far back that a Latin phrase exists for 'let the buyer beware'.

In the lifetime of those around you - the book about converting dreams into money used to be called "Propaganda" and was later 're-branded' as "Public Relations".

If society thought it was better off - then why does "Public Relations" still exist? It's almost like there is a desire to be told lies, sweet little lies is considered acceptable.
posted by rough ashlar at 11:35 PM on December 4, 2012


There is a very real dislike of lawyers in the U.S., on both sides of the political fence.

But on only one side of the "dumb people" fence. Lawyers are people who work with the law, which is obviously crucial for doing anything in a society governed by laws. Hating lawyers is just as infantile and intellectually bereft as hating "those clowns in Congress." Unless you're a "Morning Zoo" host, you should really know better by now.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:08 AM on December 5, 2012 [11 favorites]


I was wondering why there are so many posts about law student underemployment on Metafilter, but apparently they are all made by this same user.

Echoing some of the comments in this thread, hating on lawyers is common, but basically silly. Lawyers are a very diverse group that act across every political belief and range from extreme self-interest to people who work for charity full-time. The comparison to racist jokes is pretty apt in terms of the rationale behind them. You can usually replace the word lawyer with "Jew" in any given rant without changing the details at all.
posted by Winnemac at 1:29 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Public Relations"

There's a world of difference between spin and fraud. Falsifying data about the number of the school's graduates who find work as lawyers within a year of graduating would be fraud. Sure, let the buyer beware, but we do imprison people who falsify data to trick customers into buying a lemon. Take used car dealers who turn back the odometer for example.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:00 AM on December 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


I wonder how many of TJSL's attorneys in this case are TJSL alumni...
posted by Skeptic at 2:30 AM on December 5, 2012


but we do imprison people who falsify data to trick customers into buying a lemon.

Say, how many people from The Bush years who falsified data on big ticket money spending that has shown to have been needless are in jail?

How about that whole 2008 Wall Street deal? Trillions 'lost' from the economy from various lemons - are people responsible going to jail and the media is just not reporting it? If the "lemon" is just a 'lemon scented bubble' - do you instead get to skate because of the word 'bubble'?

Seems to me the choice of imprisonment depends on who you know and if you know the DA (or others in the political structure) and look like you can put up a fight you get to skate but if you appear to be able to be bullied by the DA you get to be that example of 'going to jail'. How's that Jon Corzine thing going? How'd BCCI go for people like John McCain?
posted by rough ashlar at 5:17 AM on December 5, 2012


Spending 4 years in law school for a 60k a year job is a fucking joke considering the 200k (without interest) cost of the degree. Throw in undergrad debt and anyone who went that direction with their lives could rightfully claim to have gotten fucked by life.

That's 60k a year for the first year. It generally goes up from there. 60k for someone fresh off a degree with virtually no experience is pretty good. I don't know what the payments on 200k of student loans are, but like all people starting out, I'm sure it's tough the first few years.

A friend of mine became a doctor. She busted her ass for little money for about the first 10 years in the biz, but now she (at 37) is pulling in something like $350k.

People who don't take a long view of their careers get screwed. You take the best opportunity available, you kick ass, and then find better opportunities.
posted by gjc at 6:20 AM on December 5, 2012


How about that whole 2008 Wall Street deal? Trillions 'lost' from the economy from various lemons - are people responsible going to jail and the media is just not reporting it? If the "lemon" is just a 'lemon scented bubble' - do you instead get to skate because of the word 'bubble'?

The trillions that were lost were not real dollars. They were paper assets. That's the risk you take when you invest. My house is worth probably 40,000 less than it was at one point. On paper, I lost $40,000. But that isn't money out of my pocket, and nobody else has that money.

If people committed fraud, I am sure their frauds are being ferreted out. Good justice takes a long time. But for the most part, it really is just because bubble. Being stupid isn't criminal. Lots of people being stupid and causing a shit-ton of bad results for uninvolved people isn't criminal. It's just unfortunate.
posted by gjc at 6:29 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's not like this is a new thing either. It's been going on since at least Henry VI, part 2.

Everyone always loses the context on that quote. The ones advocating killing the lawyers are proposing a ridiculous form of a quasi-socialist government. I would love for people to be told that they are declaiming revolution (although not in iambic pentameter, these are Shakespeare's lower born characters) every time they quote that.
CADE
Be brave, then; for your captain is brave, and vows
reformation. There shall be in England seven
halfpenny loaves sold for a penny: the three-hooped
pot; shall have ten hoops and I will make it felony
to drink small beer: all the realm shall be in
common; and in Cheapside shall my palfrey go to
grass: and when I am king, as king I will be,--

ALL
God save your majesty!

CADE
I thank you, good people: there shall be no money;
all shall eat and drink on my score; and I will
apparel them all in one livery, that they may agree
like brothers and worship me their lord.

DICK
The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.

CADE
Nay, that I mean to do. Is not this a lamentable
thing, that of the skin of an innocent lamb should
be made parchment? that parchment, being scribbled
o'er, should undo a man? Some say the bee stings:
but I say, 'tis the bee's wax; for I did but seal
once to a thing, and I was never mine own man
since. How now! who's there?
/aside
posted by Hactar at 6:47 AM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Everyone always loses the context on that quote. The ones advocating killing the lawyers are proposing a ridiculous form of a quasi-socialist government. I would love for people to be told that they are declaiming revolution (although not in iambic pentameter, these are Shakespeare's lower born characters) every time they quote that.

Alas for us purists, Shakespeare quotes have often been in common usage long enough to have been stripped of context. How many people sagely quote Polonius not knowing what a caricature of a pompous windbag he is?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:55 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Anybody from SoCal care to chime in. Depending on which city, I'm assuming that $60k there doesn't go as far as it does elsewhere. Which would explain why someone having to foot the $300k-plus-post-grad-degree-bill would almost be forced to turn that down.
posted by Blue_Villain at 8:23 AM on December 5, 2012


Seems to me the choice of imprisonment depends on who you know and if you know the DA (or others in the political structure) and look like you can put up a fight you get to skate but if you appear to be able to be bullied by the DA you get to be that example of 'going to jail'. How's that Jon Corzine thing going? How'd BCCI go for people like John McCain?

Rich connected people can buy their way out of the consequences of their lawbreaking, so there shouldn't be laws against anything.
posted by dirigibleman at 8:58 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't know what the payments on 200k of student loans are, but like all people starting out, I'm sure it's tough the first few years.

For people who graduated when I did (2007), it's around $500 per $50k of debt. So on $200k, roughly $2500 a month. That's pretty much impossible without a very well paying job.
posted by snickerdoodle at 9:05 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


If it's what I'm thinking of, those $60k jobs are becoming common with the recent glut of desperate, unemployed law graduates. They're part of the same predatory legal spectrum as TJSL. You can google around on law blogs and find plenty of people urging you to wait for better options. Contrary to the "a job's a job" folks, there are many good reasons to turn such work down. It's probably an insurance defense firm (likely not the area of practice she wants to base her career on), little to no benefits, sweatshop 70-80 hour weeks, VERY little in the way of substantive research and worthwhile experience (not a resume booster, a resume damager.) They are few exit options, and firms in the practice areas she's interested in will be turned off by her starting with insurance defense if she wants to practice something else. (Yes, "the economy is rough and I was desperate" doesn't sound great in an interview in which you're expected to be an immaculate candidate who has Dignified Reasons for your curated career history.) Add to this a probably toxic work environment that treats its lawyers like dirt. Things get bad enough and you're better off seeking employment in your BS field than using your JD.
posted by naju at 9:12 AM on December 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


naju: "an insurance defense firm"

Can you help me understand why this is resume poison? I mean, I know I can google it and get an overview, but it sounds like there's some professional insider info that would be missed.
posted by boo_radley at 9:23 AM on December 5, 2012


Schools like TJSL used to be a good deal. You borrowed $100k to move yourself from a dead end $25k job to a career where you could expect to make $75k job a few years after graduation and had an chance to do much better. A great trade.

In the past ten or fifteen years, the dynamic has gotten worse. The cost doubled, and the attorney career path for bottom ranked school grads became terrible. A rational market would have put here schools out of business. Instead the government simply increased loan limits to the stratosphere.
posted by MattD at 9:34 AM on December 5, 2012


Can you help me understand why this is resume poison?

I'm sure others are more informed and can talk about this better than me (or disagree), but insurance defense is regarded among a lot of lawyers as at or near the bottom of legal jobs. They work with flat fee arrangements with little margin and rely on low-paid grunt work to stay in business. Some of them pay as little as 35k even in places with a high cost of living. The hours are the overwhelming kind you work in large law firms. Often no health benefits. Sit in a basement, cutting and pasting motions together with no actual worthwhile experience being gained. Worst is people with ID jobs seem to be unable to break out of the ID world once they're in, moving around every year or so to another ID firm that leaves no opportunity to pay off your debt, for years with no career growth or knowledge to show for it. It doesn't sound that great to me. I'd rather hold out and be part of a better career path. There actually are worse jobs than being unemployed, having your loans deferred and at least being able to search/interview full time.
posted by naju at 9:48 AM on December 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


I have a distant cousin who shot his wife's divorce lawyer (on the steps of the county courthouse, no less!). The lawyer didn't die. He hired a good lawyer (!) to defend him, and got a fairly short sentence. However, said sentence was in one of the most vicious prisons on the country (Brushy Mountain, in Tennessee), and he was not a young man, which doesn't have a good prognosis for spending several years.

Long story short, he was treated like a king in prison because he'd shot a lawyer. I met him a few months after his release, and he was one of the happiest people I'd ever met. Jubilant and unrepentant.
posted by The Sprout Queen at 10:23 AM on December 5, 2012 [7 favorites]


One down, 191 to go. (Allowing for the fact that getting a JD from a top 10 school might not be bullshit.)
posted by Gringos Without Borders at 12:24 PM on December 5, 2012


There are so many candidates coming out of law schools, there's no need for the firms to consider anyone who isn't at a very specific point in their educational/career path. If you take a job offer from a second-tier firm, you're never going to move up to a top-tier one. That's it, you're done; the path is closed to you from that moment on.

I've heard this a lot but I've never known if it is backed up by real surveys and statistics or is simply a part of lawyer/law student folklore. There are quite a few "facts" that run around my profession -- notably about professional mobility -- that are gross exaggerations.

It's not that having a particular position on your resume doesn't make it harder to move, it's that virtually everyone you talk to knows a person who did it. At some point it stops being the exception that proves the rule and starts being something that happens on a regular basis.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:50 PM on December 5, 2012




Also, cranking out people who don't know what a Ponzi scheme is.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:04 PM on December 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


I've heard this a lot but I've never known if it is backed up by real surveys and statistics or is simply a part of lawyer/law student folklore

So I was in a position recently to look at hundreds of resumes of law students for 2L summer internships as well as for entry-level positions. And we hired tons of lawyers in that time frame. Pretty much nobody who ended up at a bottom-feeder ID firm or the equivalent got past the initial HR screening, but a few did. There's just no way anyone gave them a chance. Same goes for people at fourth-tier law firms.

And there's a lot going on here. People with strong backgrounds tend not to end up at TJSL - even those who are bad test takers or who have other issues. They know to avoid these pitfalls and usually have other options. Occasionally we'd get a student who was top of his/her class at a second-tier school who clerked for some local magistrate or something middling but respectable for where they were coming from. That person was worth looking at. But that person is light-years away from your average TJSL grad.

The plural of anecdote isn't data. Yet I was hiring for an institution that is generally less selective than BigLaw. Look at anyone in the AmLaw 100. A few of their partners may have gone to schools like University of Cincinnati or Miami. But their new associates don't. Things have become a lot more competitive.
posted by allen.spaulding at 1:11 PM on December 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Such lies have been going on for years - so far back that a Latin phrase exists for 'let the buyer beware'.

This could have been written by a TJSL student. It shows no understanding of over 100+ years of legal reforms addressing this very issue and the ways that courts and legislatures in the US and other countries have moved beyond caveat emptor in various circumstances. MacPherson v. Buick Motor Co. was almost 100 years ago and pretty much every law student has read it.
posted by allen.spaulding at 1:16 PM on December 5, 2012


FWIW, I heard that the reason she gave for having turned down the job was that the firm refused to pay her bar dues.

Really, for this to cause a big stir it'd need to be against a school like Southwestern or Loyola (my school), to use the SoCal context. TJ was already a black sheep.

60k is rough if you borrowed everything, but that's how it is for a lot of people these days. And it might take 9 months or more to find it. IIRC the usual deferments (of the loans that can be deferred after graduation) end at 6 months out.

In some cases income based repayment is possible.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:33 PM on December 6, 2012


Also allen.spaulding's post makes me want to crawl under my pile of exam outlines and die quietly.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:37 PM on December 6, 2012


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