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Law Schools Sued After Grads Can't Find Jobs

BOSTON (CBS) - For newly minted lawyers, nabbing that first job has grown extraordinarily difficult since law firms slashed ranks during the recession.

The legal community's question du jour is:

Does that give jobless lawyers the right to sue their law school for their inability to secure high-paying legal work?

New York-based lawyer David Anziska thinks it does. He has already sued 15 law schools.

In the coming months he plans to sue 20 more by the end of May, two of which are in Massachusetts — New England Law Boston and Western New England University School of Law.

But Anziska, who has said in the press that 2012 will be the "year of law school litigation," suffered a setback last week when New York Judge Melvin Schweitzer threw out the complaint he filed with the Supreme Court of New York against New York Law School, brought by nine graduates of the school.

Overall, the legal sector lost 45,000 jobs during the "Great Recession," according to the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) in Washington, D.C.

Law school graduates from the class of 2010 faced the worst job market since the mid-1990s, with an employment rate of 87.6, a drop from 91.9 in 2007, which had been a 20-year high, per NALP.

Perhaps it's not a surprise that in their frustration over the job market, lawyers are now suing their law schools. Local lawyers, however, doubt the complaints have legs given the fact that most prospective law students are highly educated and well aware of the shaky job market. The lawsuits have also caused some backlash against those young lawyers, who for several years have mainly garnered sympathy in the legal community.

New England Law Boston Dean John O'Brien defended his school in an emailed statement.

"New England Law Boston has not been sued or served in connection with any of the cases on reporting post-graduation career data. As we have communicated to our faculty, staff and students, New England Law has always provided accurate statistics about our graduates' employment and believes any case against us would be baseless."

O'Brien continued, "As the court in New York stated in its dismissal of a similar case against New York Law School, it appears there are those who want to hold law schools responsible for not anticipating the recession. The court pointed out that, although we all sympathize with those who are having difficulty finding work, their anger and angst are misdirected."

Anziska's complaints all allege that these law schools posted false employment data, which lead students to choose a certain law school.

The complaints seek class action status and damages from the schools.

The New York Law School complaint sought $225 million in damages and as well as a broader mission to "remedy a systemic, ongoing fraud that is ubiquitous in the legal education industry."

Richard Campbell, president of the Massachusetts Bar Association and the founder of Campbell Trial Lawyers, who launched a law school task force last year, doesn't think disgruntled young lawyers will get much support from the courts.

"I don't hold out a lot of hope for those lawsuits," said Campbell.

"The people who are applying to law schools are highly educated, they know how to read the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal."

Still, Wayne Dennison, a litigation partner with Brown Rudnick, says the New York judge's decision may serve as a "road map for the next groups of plaintiffs" to craft a more persuasive argument.

Lisa van der Pool of the Boston Business Journal can be seen weekdays at 6 a.m. on WBZ-TV.

You can follow Lisa on Twitter at @lvanderpool.

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