An anonymous Boston College Law School student, soon to graduate, has requested a refund of his tuition because he is unemployed and sees no legal job in his immediate future. On a B.C. student website, he has posted an “open letter” to the school’s Dean:
“As a 3L, my peers and I find ourselves in the midst of one of the worst job markets in the history of our profession. A few of us have been able to find employment, but the overwhelming majority of us are desperately looking, and unable to find anything. We are discouraged, scared, and in many cases, feeling rather hopeless about our chances of ever getting to practice law.
To compound our difficulties, many of us are in an enormous amount of debt from our legal studies. Soon after our graduation, we will be asked to make very large monthly payments towards this debt, regardless of whether we’ve been able to find employment or not. It is a debt which, despite being the size of a mortgage, gives us no tangible asset which we could try to sell or turn in to the bank. We are not even able to seek the protection of bankruptcy from this debt.
I write to you from a more desperate place than most: my wife is pregnant with our first child. She is due in April. With fatherhood impending, I go to bed every night terrified of the thought of trying to provide for my child AND paying off my J.D, and resentful at the thought that I was convinced to go to law school by empty promises of a fulfilling and remunerative career. And although my situation puts the enormity of the problem into sharp focus, there are a lot of us facing similar financial disasters. In all of this, we have had very little help from career services, who all seem to be as confounded as we are by this job market. Kate Devlin Joyce has been an amazing and helpful ally; everyone else in that office has shrugged their shoulders at us and asked if we have tried using Linkedin.
I’d like to propose a solution to this problem: I am willing to leave law school, without a degree, at the end of this semester. In return, I would like a full refund of the tuition I’ve paid over the last two and a half years.”
If the student isn’t embarrassed (and the letter is anonymous, after all, which does not indicate pride—or courage, candor, or forthrightness, for that matter), he should be. If he ever did graduate, and I had to cast a vote as to his worthiness to be a member of a bar association, I might well decide that his character is deficient. There is no merit to either his argument or his complaint, both of which indicate a deficient comprehension of law, life and ethics.
Let’s take inventory:
- Law schools don’t make “empty promises of a fulfilling and remunerative career.” They don’t make promises at all, except to offer a good education in the law to those qualified to be admitted and willing to pay the tuition. The contract that the student claims has been breached never existed.
- Law school educations teach students how to practice law if they choose to do so. They are not aimed at making graduates rich, and many legitimate uses of law school degrees, including many that do not involve the practice of law, will not make anyone a lot of money. If the student entered law school to make money, he attended for the wrong reason.
- The presumption that the Boston College law degree is defective and responsible for the student’s employment problems are not warranted. Maybe his grades aren’t good enough. Maybe he makes a bad impression in interviews. Presumably some B.C. grads are finding jobs…Boston area law firms are full of them. Employers hire people, not degrees. If this student believes otherwise, that is yet another misconception that he needs to take responsibility for accepting, because rational people don’t.
- His financial problems are attributable to his bad choices, and nobody else’s. Why, for example, is he having a child before he has a job? This is a self-imposed crisis, and he may not blame Boston College for it.
- At what point, in this student’s job-guaranteed world, would a B.C. law grad not be entitled to a refund after his or her career stalls? By what standards and evidence would anyone be able to determine whether it was the individual, the degree, the education or bad luck that caused the unemployment?
- Nothing, and I mean nothing, is stopping the student from using his law degree to earn a living. He can go into private practice: every major law firm started that way. He can use his knowledge of the law to start a business, or go into politics, or to become a lobbyist. He can use it to become a legal journalist, or a blogger, or a law professor; he can use it to become an author, or to enter law enforcement. The fact that this student has trapped himself in a financial dilemma where his options for making profitable use of the most versatile degree in the world have been reduced to those guaranteeing riches does not obligate the law school to refunds, apologies, or anything but sympathy and a hearty “Good luck!”
- Law and law-related careers can be fulfilling, and they can be lucrative. The fulfilling careers aren’t always lucrative, and the lucrative ones aren’t always fulfilling. If the student can’t figure that out, then this also helps explain why he is unemployed.
In short, this 3L is trying to avoid his accountability, and make his law school pay for his problems.
Astoundingly, some accept his argument as valid. Ellie Mystal, over at Above the Law, for example, writes this…
“If you buy something, and it’s a piece of crap, you should be able to give it back and get your money back. Boston College sold him a promise, and Boston College cannot fulfill that promise; why can’t he get his money back? A lot of people will argue that this kid didn’t purchase a J.D., he purchased an education and a way of thinking, and he cannot just “return” these things in exchange for his money back. You know who will say those things? Law professors, deans, and other theorists who have idealized the process of “thinking like a lawyer.” But this kid (and thousands out there like him) did not go to law school to gain some intangible brain stimulation. They went to law school in order to get a job. That’s the whole point of a professional school. Deans who don’t understand that point do a disservice to their students.”
Utter nonsense, intellectually dishonest, and unfair as well.
How does the unemployment of one law student( and one naive and irresponsible enough to make this kind of request) show that a B.C. law degree is a “piece of crap,” or in any way defective? This is the equivalent of a pianist playing badly and screaming that the piano is a “piece of crap.” B.C. has always provided an excellent legal education. Legal educations do not guarantee lucrative jobs. (Ask me about that.)
B.C. did not “sell him a promise.” And an education, not just a legal education but any education, is not a guaranteed ticket to a high-paying job. Mystal’s logic would eventually require law schools to give terrific grades to every student, regardless of effort, skill, or ability; after all, only with good grades can the students get the great jobs they were “promised.”
There are fools and frauds with degrees who cannot be trusted to handle any job; there are also self-educated individuals without degrees who can run rings around them. Mystal can mock the idea that students should go to school to improve their minds, knowledge and skills, not to get a piece of paper, but it is still true, and will always be true. Indeed, the anonymous student is evidence of that. All he wanted was a degree from B.C., and based on his logic and ethical standards, that’s all he’s getting. I wouldn’t hire him to walk my dog.
Unfortunately, the degree won’t help if the holder is a boob.