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Robert Trigaux

'Non-elitist' law school expanding to Tampa Bay fights claims grads can't find decent jobs



thomasmcooleylawschoollogo.jpgWake up and good morning. So  there I am, recently listening in on a friendly group of University of South Florida college students talking about their career plans. One recent USF grad, now in law school, nonchalantly mentions to his undergrad audience that he will borrow more than $100,000 just to cover law school expenses. And there I am, thinking: Dang, hope you get a job as a lawyer, and a good paying one.

That sentiment is apparently growing, says a Fortune magazine story. "Anger has been building as more law school graduates are facing five or six-figure debt loads from their legal education but are either unable to find a legal job, or any work for that matter, or taking low-paying legal drone jobs.

"Fed up," the story states, "several groups of graduates are going to court to stop law schools from engaging in what they argue is fraudulent advertising. Job placement figures are misleading or are outright wrong, claim some of the newly degreed students who have struggled to latch on to jobs as the traditional legal hiring structure erodes."

Of regional Tampa Bay interrest, among the law schools targeted by graduates in lawsuits is Thomas M. Cooley Law School, which has four campuses in Michigan and is opening another near Tampa in Riverview with plans to become the nation's largest law school. Read more here and here.

The Fortune story quotes David Anziska, a lawyer for Kurzon Strauss, a New York law firm that represents the plaintiffs in the Cooley law school case, as well as one against better known New York Law School. States Anziska: "Law schools all make it a secret, but it's not just the recession. This has been going on for a long time," he says, noting that many law schools are portraying the dearth of jobs as a blip due to the poor economy. "Law schools need to adopt rigorous methods that tell you the extent of full-time legal employment."

Cooley's not sitting still. The law school in July sued Kurzon Strauss over claims the New York law firm and two of its lawyers, including Ankiska, falsely claimed on websites that the school misrepresented graduate employment statistics. Read the Bloomberg coverage here.

jeffmartlewcooleylawschooldeanriverview.jpgMichigan-based Thomas M. Cooley Law School is creating a branch near Interstate 75 and U.S. 301. Opening in May 2012, the nonprofit school says it prides itself on its "acceptance of students who are overlooked by other law schools," states Jeff Martlew (photo, left), dean of the school's Riverview branch and who served 14 years on the bench at the 29th Circuit Court in Michigan. "We have a more open admission policy than many law schools," he says.

That's a curious turn of phrase that sounds a lot like the school simply has lower standards. That's fine. But applicants should be aware that can translate into a harder time finding legal jobs that pay well -- especially if the students are carrying 5- or 6-figure debt loads.

The Cooley law school's move to Tampa Bay allows the school to tap into a population with an interest in studying law but has only one law school (Stetson University College of Law) in the region.

-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, St. Petersburg Times

[Last modified: Thursday, September 1, 2011 7:02am]


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