LAW SCHOOL DECEPTION — PART III

Money talks, especially to prospective law students concerned about educational debt. Tuition reduction programs promise some relief. Surely, scholarships conditioned on minimum GPAs are better.

Recently, the NY Times profiled a Golden Gate University School of Law student needing a 3.0 to keep her scholarship. By the end of her first year, she’d “curved out” at 2.967. Her Teamsters dad drove a tractor before he was laid off, but she and her parents came up with $60,000 in tuition to complete her degree.

Maybe that’s reasonable. A “B” average doesn’t seem difficult. Is this just whining from what some article comments called “the gimme generation”?

Only if the victims knew the truth. She has no paying job, legal or otherwise. That’s her true victimization, along with many others.

– Statistically possible v. doesn’t happen v. fully disclosed

Golden Gate imposes mandatory first-year curves limiting the number of As and Bs. In second and third year courses, the curves loosen or disappear. The profiled student graduated with a 3.14 GPA — a nice recovery, but too late for the lost scholarship.

According to the article, more than half of the current GGU first-year class has merit scholarships and Dean Drucilla Stender Ramey said it’s statistically possible for 70 percent of one Ls to maintain a 3.0 GPA — also the threshold for the Dean’s List. Even if she meant “theoretically” rather than “statistically” possible, I’m skeptical. The school’s handbook reports the mandatory range for those receiving a “B- and above” in first-year required courses: 45 percent (minimum) to 70 percent (maximum). And a B- is 2.67.

“[I]n recent years,” the article continued, “only the top third of students at Golden Gate wound up with a 3.0 or better, according to the dean…. She also maintains that Golden Gate 1Ls’s are well-informed about the odds they face in keeping scholarships.”

This sounds like the lawyer who tells the jury: 1) my client was out of town at the time of the murder; 2) if he was in town, he didn’t do it; and 3) whatever he did was in self-defense.

– Playing with fire

Why offer merit scholarships? U.S. News‘s rankings, says University of St. Thomas School of Law Professor Jerry Organ:

“Law schools are buying…higher GPAs and LSATs.”

Albany Law School Dean Thomas F. Guernsey notes that such catering to the rankings has “strange and unintended consequences,” such as reducing need-based financial aid by redirecting it to those who otherwise “will go somewhere else.”

U.S. News doesn’t collect merit scholarship retention data because, according to rankings guru Robert Morse, “[W]e haven’t thought about it…[T]hese students are going to law school and they need to learn to read the fine print.”

That’s among the least of many profound flaws in the U.S. News methodology. Law school deans know them all, yet pandering to the rankings persists while students and the profession pay the price.

Somewhere in the cumulative behavior of certain schools lies an interesting class action. Particularly vulnerable are recruiters operating at the outer limits of candor to attract students who accumulate staggering loans and no jobs.

Imagine forcing some deans to answer these questions — under oath:

– Where did you go to law school? (That’s foundational — to show they’re smart; for example, GGU’s Dean Ramey graduated from Yale.)

– How many graduates did you put on your school’s temporary payroll solely to boost your U.S. News “nine months after graduation” employment rate? (I don’t know about GGU, but others have.)

– How many have full-time paying jobs requiring a JD? (GGU’s nine-month employment rate is 87.2% of 143 “reporting” 2009 graduates, but the “number with salary” is only 41 (or 29%). Two-thirds of “reporting graduates” had jobs requiring bar passage; only half held permanent positions. And who’s not “reporting”?)

– How many merit recipients lose scholarships? What did you tell those hot prospects when you enticed them with first-year money? Ultimately, how much did they pay for their degrees?

Ironically, even bold typeface disclosure might not change some prospective students’ minds because facts yield to confirmation bias. Convinced that they’ll overcome daunting odds to become winners, they can’t all be right.

Still, the potential class of law student plaintiffs grows by the thousands every year. If they ever file their lawsuit, the defendant(s) better get good lawyers.