October 19, 2010
BC 3L offers a contract modification
A Boston College 3L -- who describes himself as "desperate," "discouraged," "scared," "hopeless,""terrified," and "resentful" -- has posted an "open letter" to the dean of Boston College Law School offering an unusual deal:
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.
This will benefit both of us: on the one hand, I will be free to return to the teaching career I left to come here. I’ll be able to provide for my family without the crushing weight of my law school loans. On the other hand, this will help BC Law go up in the rankings, since you will not have to report my unemployment at graduation to US News.
(Via TaxProf). It's hard not to feel sympathy for law students caught in a brutal job market that few people foresaw two years ago -- I have students in this situation -- but the most striking thing about this particular letter is the writer's apparent total refusal to take any share of responsibility for the decision. That's not a good trait for a future lawyer.
Over at Above the Law, though, Elie Mystal is much more sympathetic:
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?
But this is a very bad analogy. If you buy a new television so that you can watch the Yankees in the World Series, you can't return it because the Yankees are knocked out and the set is now useless to you. The 3L is paying for a credential which will do precisely what it was promised to do: permit you to take the bar exam.
A better doctrine might be mutual mistake, assuming that at the time the contract was made both parties assumed that BC grads would have no trouble getting jobs upon graduation; that this was a "basic" assumption on which the contract was based; and that the lack of jobs had a "material effect" on the exchange. See Rest. 2d (Contracts) § 152.
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As a one-time 3L... and as someone who realized not too shortly into his law school career that the actual PRACTICE of law wasn't going to be for him, I think the point that Mr. Snyder makes is poignant. Law schools aren't selling the ability to practice upon graduation (except, perhaps, in Wisconsin). Instead, they're selling you the right to take a test (again, except in some states where a JD isn't a pre-req).
So you can't blame a law school for the lack of an ability to find a job. Nor can you blame the school for continuing to accept applicants into school when they know that there aren't any jobs to be had.
Like TaxProf, I'm a little concerned that this person isn't taking any responsibility for their own performance, and, in fact, is "resentful at the thought that I was convinced to go to law school by empty promises of a fulfilling and remunerative career". Who convinced him? Something tells me that Boston College doesn't need to do too much recruiting for their law applicants. But even if they did, I doubt they were promising a good job at the other end of the tunnel.
I'm also concerned that this individual doesn't have the foresight to not become a father while in law school (heck, it's crass, but where did he have time to procreate?). In all, it sounds like this individual sold himself on the pie-in-the-sky view of law school and becoming a lawyer and didn't take the time to investigate fully what might happen after racking up a lot of debt in an unstable economy (which, btw, was already headed down at the time he would've been starting school).
Of course, law schools aren't entirely blameless. They're guilty of ignorance and perhaps a little obfuscation. They let people join the class to hit revenue numbers... let people stay in the class for the same reasons (as well as rankings numbers)... and have no suggestions from career services other than: 1) join JAG or 2) join a firm. They're missing the opportunity to teach law students some business-related skills and encourage some of them to start their own firms.
Giving the "mutual mistake" doctrine the time of day here, is a nice tip of the hat, but doesn't hold water - for exactly the reasons you've already stated: the job wasn't part of the bargain.
Posted by: Jeff Gordon | Oct 20, 2010 7:24:07 AM
What if you're taking the bar exam in a state such as California, which doesn't require completing or even going to law school? And while professional schools don't guarantee jobs, that's kind of the point, isn't it? And a mutual mistake claim may be possible for higher-ranked schools, but what about second and third tier? Where presumably only the student was mistaken about job prospects?
I would suggest an analogy to the purchase of word-processing software that would let you type a paper, do all the formatting and publishing, but not let you print or email your final product. You gain all these great capabilities, but not the final piece that is really what you actually want. Can you then not return the software if that ultimate feature wasn't one advertised, but merely assumed by the purchaser? I don't know that you could.
Posted by: TAF | Oct 20, 2010 8:10:12 AM