WDEL Blog: Allan Loudell

Irony of former law students suing Widener University!

For those folks who believe America is too litigious a society - that we have too many lawyers - delicious irony abounds: Eight alumni of Widener University's School of Law recently slapped a lawsuit against their alma mater, and their suit has so far overcome the university's attempts to get it thrown out.

The Sunday NEWS JOURNAL - in a Page One story - says these alumni claim Widener got them to shell out more than 34-thousand dollars in tuition based on misleading claims on the employment outcomes for graduates. These Widener alumni contend they never would have paid those steep tuition fees, saddling them with monstrous debt, if the university had offered more specific data on employment results.

The NEWS JOURNAL notes Widener comes up with the 90 percent total by including those alumni working in temporary, parttime, and non-legal related jobs. Not included in that 90-percent calculation: Alumni not seeking employment, and others who did not respond to university surveys.

Widener University argues in legal documents that you can't "return" your education for a refund, as in products purchased from a store or manufacturer. In the end, it's how an individual USES his/her knowledge and experience.

The NEWS JOURNAL's lead paragraphs note the case of Christina M. Marinakis - who earned Widener's President's Award, given to a leading second-year student... along with other awards; honored in 2010 at the top of her class; and who passed the Pennsylvania bar exam - who ended up waitressing instead of lawyering. Later, according to court documents cited in The NEWS JOURNAL, she found work as a 'non-legal consultant' in California. Tough outcome, especially with all the debt burden.

Fact is graduates of the nation's law schools have had a much tougher time finding work in the legal profession in recent years, and the deep recession only accelerated the trend. Several law schools across the country have been targets for lawsuits by disgruntled alumni.

Actually, current law students should not be shocked over their tough employment prospects: The WALL STREET JOURNAL, TIME; SLATE; The GUARDIAN; The Los ANGELES TIMES; etc., have all carried stories about this over the past few years.

(When I interviewed Widener's Law Dean Linda Ammons about this very topic several months ago, of course, she minimized the problem.)

Some Americans would likely say 'good riddance'. And former law students suing a law school?

All kinds of college graduates are ending up in jobs outside their majors. That was always so; no college or university could guarantee placement in a particular job after graduation. But, clearly, the nation's economic downturn has only exacerbated such outcomes. And, doubtless rising college tuition/fees/housing, with mounting student debt, have only fueled the alienation towards high education, even one's alma mater.

I'm waiting to hear about former art students suing their schools for not being able to get a job in the art field after graduation. Or just plain liberal arts majors.

Actually, my brief search of the Internet finds some non-law students ARE suing, but judges are more likely to hold private "for profit" schools liable than regular public universities. Memo to college/university/trade school marketing departments: Avoid questionable claims about alumni employment numbers in your brochures!


One current Widener student quoted in that NEWS JOURNAL story offered a classic quote: "I can't imagine anyone bright enough to get into law school blindly relying on numbers from previous years' graduating classes..."


Posted at 7:54am on April 29, 2013 by Allan Loudell

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Comments on this post:

Mon, Apr 29, 2013 9:38am
Great, spend 34,000 bucks on tuition and land on the unemployment line.

I also know people who graduated from Delaware State working K-Mart, and those with a diploma from Wilmington University who are working in the food-court at the mall.

If these schools can't get jobs for their own people, the least they can do is refund the tuition money.

Mon, Apr 29, 2013 9:43am
What did you expect? You train people to think like lawyers and they think like lawyers.

Spending an additional three years (after receiving a bachelor's degree) reading law and then doing something else is not exactly like getting a job outside your major. Law school is a professional school and students go to study law. However, more so than, say, medical students, many law school graduates do end up in fields other than the practice of law and law schools in their promotional materials often do cite law school as sound preparation for many careers (and cite graduates successful in other careers).

What's suspect about law schools is the proportion of law school graduates who fail the bar exam. In fact, almost all graduates take prep courses before sitting for the bar exam. How is that after three years in law school, they can't pass the bar exam without additional prep?

Let's also face the fact that Widener is NOT a top law school. US News does not rank it at all. Highly placed graduates of Yale, Harvard, Penn, and other top law schools don't have the same trouble finding jobs. Traditionally, graduates of local and regional schools don't get jobs in law firms but instead hang out shingles in storefronts and do divorces, wills and the occasional drunk driving charge.

I'd say corporations have too many lawyers. But a regular person who needs competent and affordable legal help often can't find it. On TV, a person is wrongly accused and a crusading lawyer comes to their rescue. Same for all those people who had their homes improperly foreclosed in recent years. Life ain't like TV.

Still, law school grads come out with a huge student loan debt (from law school and college) and likely with a set of unrealistic expectations, which the school may have encouraged. Most of us when we feel wronged have the impulse to sue the bastards. Only problem is, we have to hire a lawyer. They don't.

Mon, Apr 29, 2013 12:02pm
If you complete college with an undergraduate degree in a less than a world-beater major, law school will not make up for that. A graduate degree in a business major, later combined with a law degree, can make you a sought-after employee. A friend from high school went on to earn a masters in accounting, then studied for a law degree in taxation. That worked well financially. A simple law degree is not enough. You need a specialty.

“My Cousin Vinny” summed up his situation after not passing the bar exam until his sixth try. “The law school teaches you contracts, torts, s(tuff) like that. The firm that hires you teaches you courtroom procedures.” The losers now suing believed that law school could redeem their lack of preparation in undergraduate school. So now they try to prove their worth by suing the school. That’s going to look really good on their resume, Facebook page, and Twitter.

Is the school at fault? Hardly. Undergrad schools entice males with pictures of beautiful women and stories of available beer. Grad schools entice you with jobs. In both cases, it is still up to you to succeed.

Mon, Apr 29, 2013 2:56pm
The employment outcomes vary widely based on the type of degree and where you got it.

For example, an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania might open doors for a lucrative career on Wall Street. But, an MBA from Goldey Beacom College might get you a job mopping floors at Arthur Treacher's Fish N Chips.

Mon, Apr 29, 2013 3:17pm
Looks to me like these students are simply getting into practice for the day they'll finally become ambulance chasers.

Mike from Delaware
Mon, Apr 29, 2013 3:48pm
Prior to the recession of 2007, these folks saw grads from law schools being hired and pulling in serious money. You know, "Get a law degree and make some serious money." It's not like it's only lawyers who are having problems getting work in this economy. Other than maybe, the technical fields such as: Engineering, electronics, the sciences, and medical, are having problems. It seems to me that lawyers think the reality of the world does NOT apply to them, so what do many of them do? They run for government office, where they can really rake it in and barely ever break a sweat [Congress comes to mind].

Mon, Apr 29, 2013 4:14pm
A JD might get you a job at Arthur Treacher's - if there were any of them still around. A doctorate in divinity or sacred theology might get you a job at Chick-Fil-A. Any university degree from Pakistan gets you a job at Subway.

Maybe those unemployed law school grads could become talk show hosts like Michael Smerconish (Penn), Mark Levin (Temple), Laura Ingraham (U. Va.), Hugh Hewitt (Michigan) and Bill Bennett (Harvard). Of course, those schools aren't the same caliber as Widener, except maybe Temple.

Mon, Apr 29, 2013 11:49pm
JimH summed up the reality of this story very well...these students have an expensive piece of paper (diploma) and expect a job to land at their feet (even if they have no work experience). A diploma without practical work experience in their field of future employment sets up these students for failure and years of student loan payments.

Tue, Apr 30, 2013 6:44am
Earl: A law degree is a job requirement, as is admission to the bar. So, how are they supposed to get "work experience" before hand? In the legal field, you get the degree and then you get an entry-level associate job. It's like an apprenticeship. But first you get hired; then they give you experience. If you do well with seven years' experience, maybe you make partner. But no experience without the job. No job without the degree.

Tue, Apr 30, 2013 9:07am
bill: I should have clarified my post better...I was speaking a bit more broadly about all college degrees and trying to say that a diploma alone does not guarantee a job upon graduation.

Tue, Apr 30, 2013 1:12pm
Earl: Thanks for clarifying. No, it doesn't. It seems the issue with this lawsuit is this school (like many others) promising - or seeming to promise - a job after graduation. I saw an ad on TV for a school that teaches HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) repair. You probably have a better shot at a job with that program than with most bachelor's (or master's) degrees.

Education is a racket. 100 years ago they could turn out people who could function well in society in eight years. I've seen a copy of the graduation requirements and probably most community college (associate degree) graduates or university underclassmen could not pass it. Job skills were acquired on the job. Now, they keep people in school longer and they come out less well-prepared. Most supposedly learned what they need to do for a job in school, but usually end up having to unlearn what they learned in school and then learn on the job. Even people who want a career in academia and get PhDs mostly can't get tenured track positions. The main value of education is it keeps people out of the work-force longer and it provides good business for financial institutions that make student loans. Also employees with student debt are almost as docile and compliant as undocumented workers.

Wed, May 1, 2013 1:27am
MFD: You're right about 2007. People were raking in a lot of money in real-estate then too. Unfortunately, 2008 happened to me and many others caught unaware.

Mike from Delaware
Wed, May 1, 2013 8:39am
Mrpizza: Did you used to be a realtor [on the side] before you started being Mrpizza? You're right, that entire industry just fell apart. I wouldn't be surprised that today there are many less folks in the realestate business than were back in 2007.

I think we all tend to forget how bad it actually was, and how close to going into a full-blown Depression we were. America was like the car that partially went over the cliff and was teatering. Thankfully, both Bush Jr. and Obama, who continued those policies, were able to keep the banks from failing. I know most of us don't like what they did, but like it or not, if they had let all those banks fail, today would be more like 1932 [when FDR took office from Hoover] than any of us would like to think about.

Well maybe with the real-estate market beginning to go north again, home prices are rising, at least what I heard on CBS Radio news yesterday, so maybe that is a good sign things are really improving, slowly, but improving.

Wed, May 1, 2013 10:02am
MFD: Actually, I did pizza prior to that, but then I left and attempted to launch a buy-fix-and sell business. The crash happened right in the middle of all that. While I succeeded in fixing and selling the homes, I had to sell them for much less than I had in them. I then had to go back to the pizza business to pay back the debt. I could have filed for chapter 7 bankruptcy, but I just don't roll that way.

I'm concerned that the government has created another real estate bubble that will blow up with even more disastrous results than before. While I'm not totally against doing real estate again, I've opted to only do that which doesn't involve borrowing money. I'm finally recovering from 2008 and like a reformed drug addict I want to stay clean.

Mike from Delaware
Wed, May 1, 2013 10:21am
MrPizza: Sounds like you have that entrepreneurial spirit in your blood! That takes a special person; I know I'm not one of those. Forgive me for asking, but did you ever sell Amway at one time? I've known folks who were totally into that, and have that same entrepreneurial spirit.

You not taking the Chapter 7 bankruptcy option says a lot about you and your values. There probably are some who need to do that, but probably more take that option than really need to.

What the real-estate bubble now? You probably keep a closer eye on the real-estate market than I, as you are interested in that field.

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