Most New York City law school students probably do not envision themselves whipping up lattes after graduation.
But that’s exactly where one law school graduate found himself this year post-commencement.
That grad is one of thousands each year who sign up to attend a city law school that promises a nearly 100 percent job placement rate.
Yet those rates are often fudged with “misleading” numbers, alleges Jesse Strauss. Strauss is an attorney suing 14 law schools across the country on behalf of jobless graduates, including three in New York City: Hofstra, Brooklyn Law School and New York Law School.
Strauss will argue in Manhattan Supreme Court today against New York Law School, which touts about a 90 percent job placement rate, according to the complaint.
However, that rate includes any kind of employment, and fewer than 40 percent of school grads are actually working in jobs that require a law degree, the suit alleges.
“That’s misleading,” Strauss said. “When you don’t have a transparent market, the result is you have people getting degrees and paying a lot of money for those degrees that are not worth it.”
The claim by schools that they have strong job placement rates is also inflated, Strauss said, since the stats often include grads who were given temporary jobs at the school, and not gigs in high-powered legal firms.
For example, at Fordham Law School, which was not named in the lawsuit, nearly 15 percent of graduates the school counted as employed actually work at school-funded jobs.
That grad now serving lattes is included in the suit against New York Law School. He moved back to St. Louis after graduation and, unable to find a job in the legal field, is now working at Starbucks.
“There are lives being ruined,” Strauss said.
One of Strauss’ clients moved from Seattle to attend New York Law School.
“Because she saw the stellar numbers at New York Law School, she moved herself across the country,” Strauss said. Now, he said, “Her debt number is so big that she actually doesn’t want to talk about it,” and she has still not found steady work.
The New York Post reported yesterday that New York University Law School, which is not named in Strauss’ lawsuit, counts 38 graduates as employed but they actually work in temporary positions at the school.
“It’s standard practice,” Strauss said. “There’s a lot of different tricks that the schools use.”
Columbia would not reveal their data on how many jobs it funded, but the Post reported its employment rate dropped from 98.6 to 96.5 percent.
A Columbia spokeswoman contacted Metro today to dispute that statistic, arguing that different organizations, like the National Association of Law Placement or the American Bar Association, calculate employment rates differently.
For example, as a Columbia spokeswoman explained in a letter to the New York Post, NALP considers graduates in full-time graduate degree programs employed, but U.S. News & World Report counts full-time graduate students as unemployed.
Schools on the defense
Schools like New York Law School and Hofstra defended their data.
On its website, New York Law School noted, “There are several approaches to calculating the single number that blends all the things law graduates do in their first year after graduation.”
And Hofstra spokeswoman Kristen McMahon said the school “stands by our job placement statistics.”
This is the average debt per student at the three schools listed in the suit:
$119,437 Average debt of a New York Law School graduate, according to the complaint
$97,631 Average debt of a Brooklyn Law School graduate, according to the complaint
$115,705 Average debt of a Hofstra Law School graduate
$100,000 Average debt burden for law school graduates nationally, according to the complaint
Follow Alison Bowen on Twitter @AlisonatMetro