They made misleading claims about how many of their students were likely to find a job, obscuring the grim reality of how few get employment in their field. They buried their graduates in piles of debt they could not reasonably repay, and admitted unqualified students in pursuit of tuition revenue. They often failed to educate their students well enough to pass the tests required to land a job. And the watchdog that oversees them is facing sanctions from the Education Department.
This might sound very much like the scandal-ridden world of for-profit colleges. But since the recession, it has also become an accurate way to describe some American law schools.
This is the opening paragraph to an article just published by BuzzFeed news called:
It’s an important article which, if true, could get a lot of your colleagues very upset. But not the way you might think.
Through the years there has been much conversation on social media about those who tried to sell their worthless diploma on craigslist and/or are chagrined about the investment they’ve made in their legal education because they have come up short on the employment side yet still bound to a lifetime of debt. This hinders their ability to change careers, buy a car, get a mortgage, start a family. They blame the schools, the false employment statistics, the ABA for accrediting new schools. And those who have already run the gamut, paid off their loans and sacrificed to do so, cry ‘foul’, that these students shouldn’t expect to graduate with a six-figure job, that law school comes with no guarantees of gainful employment in the field. Or, if money is going to be handed out, they want a refund from the government for the loans they paid back with interest through their own blood, sweat and tears.
It’s a very touchy subject. I paid back all my student loans, but back then I was only in debt $60,000. It was reasonable to expect to earn that annually in the days before technology started usurping jobs, before law schools started having fun with numbers at the law students’ expense, before the Legal Zooms of the world, and even as a solo right out of law school. A strict cost-benefit analysis (not including one’s desire to be a lawyer) came up in favor of incurring the debt to go to law school and get the education because it was not unreasonable to believe the note could be paid back without giving up other aspirations I had for my life.
You’ve read enough to know that this isn’t the case today. Students are in debt nearly $200,000. It’s not reasonable to expect to earn anywhere near that in the early years, not even in the midling years. But it’s also not reasonable to expect the law schools to fudge numbers to induce law students to take on this debt nor have those same schools sanctioned because of lack of oversight by the governing body who accredits schools. Times are different. An honest cost-benefit analysis is hard to come by because the numbers are dishonest, or negligent at best. So, there are many young lawyers drowning and quite often through no fault of their own. They had bad information for their own analysis.
But this doesn’t change the fact that we were all roughly the same age when we decided to incur a debt we knew we couldn’t discharge in anticipation of a career which would presumably pay for itself at the very least. No, we weren’t guaranteed jobs but it was a reasonable assumption we could make a living armed with our degree. All of these reasonable assumptions, however, have outlived their value but they continue to be used repeatedly to get more eager law students into law schools. The law schools know exactly what they’ve done….and continue to do.
The question remains, though. Should the notes be forgiven? Or should the culpable schools be held responsible for paying back these notes? And is it fair that both you and I did pay back our notes and sacrificed and still survived? Or are the circumstances today so different than when we went to law school that it is a serious inequity which must be resolved in the students’ favor?
How do you feel?