A New York court has tossed out a lawsuit against Brooklyn Law School over allegations that employment statistics were somehow responsible for causing students to attend law school. This is the third New York court to toss out such a claim. Earlier suits against Albany Law School and New York Law School were dismissed last year. Three other lawsuits in other states, two in Illinois and one in Michigan, have also been thrown out. Several lawsuits against California law schools making similar claims, however, are still active.
The opinion as summarized by the Wall Street Journal made two important points: 1) law school applicants could have engaged in diligence and determined likely employment and salary outcomes upon graduation from Brooklyn Law School; and 2) the larger problems of the macroeconomy were responsible for the challenging job market for law school graduates not law schools.
With respect to the first conclusion the Journal quotes the judge as concluding that “the school’s own data was sufficient to ‘enable a reasonable person to determine that most graduates were earning modest incomes.’”
With respect to the second conclusion, the Judge wrote:
“Whatever plaintiffs’ allegations, the court simply cannot overlook the effect the severe downturn in the economy — a significant supervening event — had on plaintiffs’ employment prospects….Regardless of the effect BLS’s Employment Reports may allegedly have had on plaintiffs’ decision to enroll and remain in school, plaintiffs graduated into what is universally recognized as one of worst job markets in recent memory….Given the staggering loss of jobs across and at all levels of the entire legal sector, plaintiffs’ claim that the damages they suffered were a result of BLS’s conduct, is simply not susceptible to proof.”
The full opinion can be read at 975 N.Y.S. 2d 365 (2013).
In earlier posts here and on blogs like Faculty Lounge I argued in the face of obstreperous objections from proponents (some of whom went so far as to advocate that I be fired) of the theory that law school is a “scam” and a fraud, that law school brochures that tout post-graduate employment opportunities could not explain the impact of a world wide economic calamity.
To me this kind of argument is akin to suggestions that global warming is man made. Of course, pollution is a problem for the world that should be confronted but to suggest that humans are significant enough force in the world to cause global temperature change is absurd.
And it is true that some law schools did engage in bragging about the success of a relatively small number of their students but rarely, if ever, without also providing data that could easily explain to students likely outcomes upon graduation. And certainly no law school (or law student) should be blamed for remaining optimistic about the economy in 2007, for example, when the credit crisis was simply a figment of the imagination in the minds of some academics.
I, for example, was by then a longtime advocate of the view that the global economy was headed for a “meltdown,” the title of an online discussion group I helped found in the late 1990s. But our group’s ideas remained outliers until the collapse of major financial institutions began in 2007-08.
In law and economics we discuss such phenomena as an example of “hindsight bias” – the idea that after an unusual or low probability event occurs it is easy to think that somehow it should have, ex ante, been considered more likely and thus warnings should have been issued.
That approach, fortunately, has yet to convince any of three New York courts.