Monday, March 26, 2012
Dan noted the decision last week, and I thought I would add two observations about aspects of the opinion that must be worrying the plaintiffs' attorneys. First, the court did not think prospective law students, given the wealth of information in the public domain, could be as naive as the complaints present them to be. Second, the court took explicit notice of the elephant in the room: namely, the collapse of the global capitalist system that began in 2008. This part of the opinion bears quoting, for it may well prove significant in how other courts view these cases:
In this court's view, the issues posed by this case exemplify the adage that not every ailment afflicting society may be redressed by a lawsuit. The action here is brought by nine plaintiffs, some of whom may be experiencing the real aftershocks that have hit the legal profession since America's Great Recession of 2008. Where before 2008 there was a seeming abundance of opportunities for lawyers at all points of entry into the profession, regardless of the law school one attended, law graduates today and over these past few years have been faced with the effects of the most severe contraction in demand for legal services that this court can recall since the early 1970s....
Now it is recent law graduates who are caught in the midst of an unanticipated squeeze. They entered law school with the most optimistic of expectations and find themselves without work and competing in a log jam of young lawyers, none of whom have any experience to offer employers who themselves must contend with clients that are insisting they will pay full freigh only for seasoned professionals they know can add real value to a representation....
[P]laintiffs here...as law graduates who made their decisions to go to law school before the full effects of the maelstrom hit...now have turned their disappointment and angst on their law school for not adequately anticipating the possibility of the supevening storm and presenting the most complete job-related data that could possibly have been compiled. They challenge the statistics that NYLS assembled each year to meet the standards required by the American Bar Association, the official accrediting association designed by the U.S. Department of Education to provide students with the data they need to make informed decisions before deciding to embark on the pursuit of a legal education. And they allege that these allegedly misleading statistics have adversely affected their ability to enter the practice of law as full-time members of our profession....[T]he court does not believe the grievances articulated by these plaintiffs in their complaint state a cause of action for which legal redress may be had.
The first point is obviously arguable, and I imagine other courts will see it differently. But it isn't arguable that these lawsuits coincide with a general economic collapse, and that will surely tempt other jurists to view these lawsuits as seeking legal redress for a societal ailment. To the extent other courts view these cases through that lens, then even law schools that engaged in actual fraudulent data reporting may escape liability if their motions to dismiss similarly succeed.