American Bar Association / ABA, Law Schools

Law School Litigation Update: Will New York’s Chief Judge Be Able To Fix The Legal Academy’s ‘Systemic Failure’?

Back in July, we brought our readers news of Kurzon LLP’s defamation lawsuit against the Thomas M. Cooley Law School. The suit claimed that the Cooley Law administration had engaged in a “misguided effort” to stem the tide of forthcoming class action suits against it and similarly situated schools by sending out an allegedly defamatory school-wide announcement.

Much has happened since the filing of Kurzon’s defamation complaint: the underlying suit over Cooley’s employment statistics was dismissed (a decision that is now being appealed by Team Strauss/Anziska), the school moved to dismiss Kurzon’s defamation action, and Kurzon’s small New York firm recently filed a motion to amend its suit to add additional causes of action.

But that’s not the only thing that managing partner Jeffrey Kurzon did in what’s being called a “David versus Goliath” litigation. You see, Kurzon decided to write a letter to the chief judge of the state’s highest court, a man who’s been hailed for mandating a first-in-the-nation pro bono requirement for would-be lawyers, asking him to weigh in on the problems law schools are currently facing.

Did we mention that in his letter, Kurzon used Cooley as an example of everything that’s currently wrong with legal education in our country?

Not only did Kurzon single out Cooley Law School to show Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman the depths of despair that recent law school graduates are currently faced with, but he also took the opportunity to call out the American Bar Association for failing to properly regulate law schools. In fact, because Kurzon claims that the ABA has “failed in its job,” he’s called on Lippman to revisit the state’s constitutional right to regulate the admission of attorneys — a duty that is typically delegated to the ABA.

Kurzon and other inquiring minds would like to know the answer to this question: when is enough enough? One has to wonder what the point is in requiring recent law school graduates to perform pro bono work when they’re so enslaved to their debts that they themselves would likely qualify to receive free legal services. From Kurzon’s letter to Chief Judge Lippman of the New York Court of Appeals (click to enlarge):

Kurzon uses this as the backdrop to rip apart Cooley’s practices, noting that the class of 2010 graduated with “a staggering $91 million of debt,” which averages out to about $100,000 per student. He then tells Lippman that the majority of the class of 2011 didn’t find jobs as lawyers, but goes one step further by attaching the school’s 2011 employment report to illustrate just how bad the situation really is. Apparently Cooley Law’s got 999 graduates problems, but making sure they’re employed ain’t one.

Kurzon then compares the ABA to the American Medical Association, asking if the AMA would allow half of medical school graduates to go into the field without employment and without a way to pay off their loans. Seeing as there hasn’t been a commotion over unemployed doctors, the answer that question is clearly no — which is why Kurzon urges Lippman to step in and address the ABA’s inadequacies (click to enlarge):

Because if the ABA won’t do anything about the legal academy’s “systemic failure,” maybe the chief judge of New York’s highest court will. We understand that Lippman can only do so much, but perhaps with some additional pressure from a state court (in addition to what the organization’s already feeling from various U.S. senators and advocacy groups), the ABA will reconsider its misguided approach. Here’s hoping, at least…

(Flip to the following page to see Kurzon’s letter to Judge Lippman in its entirety.)

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