Monday, March 7, 2016

Due Diligence

The New York Times published an article today concerning a lawsuit filed against Thomas Jefferson School of Law by a former student, Anna Alaburda. This student graduated in 2008 and has yet to be employed as a lawyer. She claims that the school misrepresented their employment numbers. Maybe they did. Honestly, I find it more likely than not that they fudged their numbers higher. Why wouldn't they? Good employment numbers bring in students, who bring in money.

But that's not the point of this post. (For more about this particular case, from an actual lawyer, read this from Keith Lee)

The decision as to what law school to go to (or whether to go to law school at all) is one of the bigger decisions a person can make. The prospective student is looking at taking on well over a hundred thousand dollars of debt - sometimes over $300,000 - in most cases. Most students will not get cushy scholarships. And, because of the competitive nature of law school grades, most students will not get straight-A's. It's just not possible.

And so, the student must do some research. Among the schools the student can get into with a given GPA, LSAT, and "Diversity category," the student needs to find the best one.

Some schools, of course, only accept the most highly qualified students. Because of this, graduates from those schools tend to perform better in the working world, earning more and being more likely to be employed. The school name has its prestige, and the graduates have strong academic ability. Any of the T14 is a good pick. One need not fret so much over getting into "just the right school" if one has the credentials for admission to schools on this level.

Then there are the average schools, which take average students. Lately, they've been dipping down lower into the pool of potential students, but this was not as much an issue when Ms. Alaburda enrolled. They take students with good-but-not-fantastic GPAs, decent LSAT scores, and no family ties to T14 schools. Graduates from these schools vary greatly in post-law school employment. Most of this has to do with how much work the student puts in, but the schools bear a lot of responsibility too. This is where due diligence comes in. Don't just count on what the school tells you about its numbers - Verify! Some mid-range schools are very good - high bar passage numbers, high employment numbers, etc. Some are just blah. Of course, it is best to go with the best school one can get into. That goes without saying, I hope. There are more tools available online for researching law schools now than there were when Ms. Alaburda enrolled, but surely a little outside research would have helped her greatly, especially considering...

She enrolled in a Shit School. There are a handful of these all over the country, and one thing they all seem to have in common is that they are all very good at marketing. It seems to be the only thing they are good at, but it's what makes them money. They advertise in magazines, billboards, and web ads. They send out emails with pretty pictures and not much text. They look nice, they sound nice, and  hand out scholarships like candy. And they are absolutely worthless. Literally anyone can get into one of these schools right now. Literally anyone can graduate from them and take a bar exam. Many people who graduate from a Shit School cannot PASS a bar exam, however.

These schools have bar passage rates around 38-60%. After 3 years, and over One Hundred Thousand Dollars in debt, and only around half their graduates can call themselves lawyers.

It only gets worse from there. The employment rates for these schools - that is, how many graduates are working full-time at a job where it at least helps to have a J.D. within 10 months of graduating - sit around 22-40%. Put another way, if you graduate from one of these schools, it is more likely than not that you will NOT be working as a lawyer. And why is that?

They accept the worst candidates, then don't train them. Poor-performing students could be trained properly, but it would take a lot more time and effort. And frankly, that just doesn't make money for the school, so it never happens.

 People who enroll in these schools are the worst candidates for many reasons.
1. They have worse-than-average LSAT scores. Shit Schools today will gladly accept someone with an LSAT score of only 138 - about 10th percentile. Yeah, 10th. 90% of test-takers got better scores than these people. There are many legitimate reasons why someone who otherwise would be a great law student, and possibly a decent lawyer, would get a score that low. Illness, family/financial problems distracting them, testing anxiety, etc. Generally one cancels their score and/or re-takes the test, though.
2. They have mediocre GPAs. I admit that my undergrad GPA is nothing impressive. I made a lot of mistakes early on and I know just how many different factors go into bringing down a GPA. And, of course, individual students can explain their low GPAs and show how they have improved in their Personal Statements to a law school. But when an entire law school's best students only just barely broke 3.00 as undergrads, something is seriously wrong.
3. They have poor research skills. It's easy to tell that these students are bad at research. After all, they voluntarily chose to enroll in a law school that has a worse chance of making a student into a working lawyer than a flipped coin has of landing heads up.

The most cringe-worthy part of that New York Times article came in the last two paragraphs:
"Thomas Jefferson’s lawyers will argue that Ms. Alaburda never incurred any actual injury, because she was offered — and turned down — a law firm job with a $60,000 salary shortly after she graduated.
Ms. Alaburda said, in legal papers, that she received “only one job offer — one which was less favorable than non-law-related jobs that were available” — after she sent her résumé to more than 150 law firms and practicing lawyers. She is asking $125,000 in damages."

SHE WAS OFFERED A JOB! She went to one of the worst schools in the country, where 2/3 of the students apparently don't get job offers, miraculously got a job offer, and TURNED IT DOWN. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the sort of person who goes to a Shit School. And notice that those better-paying jobs, while "available," were not necessarily actually offered to her. They were just... out there. Available.

Listen - if the only law school you can get into is a Shit School, you are not meant to be a lawyer. Find something else to do with your life. And maybe take some time to find out about that "Google" thing your teacher was talking about that one time you actually went to class.

Tangential Update: Holy shit, Oklahoma, what is wrong with you? 

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