Advocates for Starving Advocates

MY LAW SCHOOL IS LYING (Part I): Why is Northeastern Lying to Us About Its Co-Op Program?

NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY IS MANIPULATING THE FACTS ABOUT ITS CO-OP PROGRAM

This is the first post in a two-part series. Part I focuses on the Northeastern University School of Law’s manipulation of job data to promote its co-op program. Part II focuses on NUSL’s administration, which is lying to itself.

And verily I was taught by my law school: Thou Shalt Not Lie.

The Northeastern University School of Law first introduced me to the American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Although I do not remember all of those rules verbatim, ABA Model Rule 8.4(c) is one that tends to stick in the old hippocampus: “It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to: … engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.” Simple. Clear cut. Don’t lie. Don’t deceive. Not even a little. Ever.

Disclaimer: The rules of professional conduct are not applicable to law-school marketing.

NUSL — a school that excels in practical education — has provided us with an excellent practical demonstration of the credibility gap law schools have slumped into. On its career services web site, NUSL proudly boasts of its co-operative education program: “Co-op is working: 48% of our graduates with full-time legal jobs accepted a position with a former co-op employer.” This claim falls under the heading, “Class of 2012 Highlights,” as if Northeastern’s placement record for the Class of 2012 somehow warrants highlights. In fact, Northeastern’s Class of 2012 fared far worse on the job market than graduates from many other schools. According to stats released by the American Bar Association, 56.2 percent of 2012 grads had acquired full-time, long-term jobs that required bar passage within nine months of graduation. Only 43 percent of NUSL grads had jobs in that category.

Brief note for those uninitiated with NUSL’s co-operative education program: Northeastern students are required to complete four externships — or “co-ops” — in the legal field as part of the school’s JD program. This is a unique program in legal education, and in my opinion an exceptional educational experience. Northeastern, however, is misleading prospective students to believe that its co-op program gives them a better chance of landing post-graduate employment. The numbers show that this is simply not true.

Until recently, the claim on Northeastern’s career services page was an outright lie. It has since been edited into a merely deceptive white lie. A fellow 2012 grad told me that career services originally boasted, “Co-op is working: 48% of graduates accepted a full-time position with a former co-op employer.” This claim did not add up. Remember, ABA job data says that only 43 percent of 2012 Northeastern grads found full-time work in the legal field. If only 43 percent have full-time jobs, how could 48 percent have been hired by former co-op employers?

This fellow grad reported to me that he e-mailed NUSL’s Luke Bierman, the Associate Dean of Experiential Education, to point out the mathematical impossibility of the claim. The site was promptly edited to reflect the current version of the statement. In other words, NUSL softened its lie.

With the help of two qualifiers, we are now told that 48 percent of grads who found full-time, legal jobs were hired by former co-op employers, which is technically true. But the number is nonetheless presented as part of a statistical slight of hand to support the fundamentally false claim that “co-op is working,” when it comes to placing graduates in legal jobs. 

I would posit that most prospective law students are not informed enough on the minutia of ABA job-reporting statistics to parse this statement properly. It’s more likely that many of the would-be applicants reading it perceive that because “48 percent of graduates who found full-time legal jobs,” did so with former co-op employers that they too will have a 50-50 shot at landing a post-grad job as a result of co-op alone. Of course, it was not remotely close to 48 percent who found full-time legal jobs. In fact, it’s only 48 percent of 43 percent. Working backwards from these percentages, roughly 44 grads from a class of 215 found full-time jobs with their co-op employers (about 20.4 percent). Yet Northeastern is sending prospective students this message: If you come to Northeastern, the co-op program by itself will give you a 50-50 chance at a job (implicitly suggesting your job prospects are better at NUSL than they are elsewhere). Or as the law school asserts, “Co-op is working.”

False. Co-op is not working. At least not for the purpose of improving job placement.

As I move through the NUSL web site, I continue to stumble on other numbers that do not hold up under scrutiny. On its “Careers” page, NUSL makes another dubious claim about co-op employment success: “In fact, co-op experiences do more than prepare you for the job market — they often lead directly to a job offer. On average, almost 40 percent of Northeastern law students accept post-graduate employment offers with a former co-op employer.”

Right now, about one in five grads lands a job with a former co-op employer. Does that really qualify as “often?” And what does that 40 percent stat mean? An average of what? The last five years? All-time? Without further qualification this is a purposely vague number and it’s meaningless.

Let’s look at the data another way. Consider that EVERY Northeastern grad is required to do four co-ops. That means the Class of 2012 performed an estimated 860 co-ops. Only 44 of those led to full-time jobs. That means 0.05 percent of co-ops actually led to a full-time job. To be fair, the 44 grads who accepted full-time jobs could only take ONE job. So, let’s not consider the other three co-ops those 44 grads performed, (so, remove 132 co-ops from our analysis for the sake of fairness). If we throw those out, we get an adjusted success rate of 0.06 percent (44 jobs out of 728 opportunities). As I see it, if the program were just 25 percent successful at connecting students with jobs, NUSL would have a 100 percent employment rate.

Co-op is not working. Northeastern knows these numbers better than anybody and cannot with good conscience promote this claim that the co-op program is a panacea for the job crisis plaguing new lawyers.

A NOTE ABOUT THE NUSL CO-OP PROGRAM

Given my statements on the success of the co-op program as a job provider, I feel compelled to explain that I do in fact hold the program in high regard. As much as I believe in, support and herald the co-op program as an innovative and fundamentally necessary endeavor in legal education, I recognize that it cannot help Northeastern students land jobs that do not exist. Is co-op “working?” Yes, but not in the way NUSL is trying to tell us it’s working.

I’ll use my wife, Mimi Brown, as an example. Mimi, who graduated with me in 2012, has a passion for food policy, which is a hyperniche area of law. It’s genuinely difficult to find lawyers and legal organizations (outside of the FDA) who are working on the issues Mimi cares about. Nonetheless, Mimi’s co-op experience reveals the breadth and strength of NUSL’s co-op network. Among her four co-ops, she worked for a government public-health organization, a non-profit food policy lobbyist and a think tank monitoring the corporate advertising practices of major food corporations (she also spent a term working for a state appeals court judge).

What’s better is that her experience was valuable experience. She drafted a petition to the FDA. She worked on a project that led McDonald’s to shut down a web campaign targeting children. When I discussed this with a partner in a well-known Boston firm, he was blown away. This partner, a BC grad who was only nominally familiar with the co-op program, was impressed that NUSL could accommodate the career aspirations of someone with such unique ambitions. So, if you ask me whether the co-op program is working, I would affirm that it absolutely is when it comes to educating students in the law.

This is why I’m genuinely aggravated that my school would play this shell game with the truth. The co-op program is not, as NUSL is trying to suggest on its web site, immune to the crumbling job market. But it is an exemplary program that’s building better lawyers.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dave Brown is a Boston Business Lawyer and a founding partner of Boston MicroLaw, LLP. He would advise Northeastern to promote its strengths rather than lie about its weaknesses.

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  • JenEsq

    If, as I was taught at NUSL, reputation is one of the most important attributes for a lawyer to protect, this seems like an odd turn for the admininstration.

  • Ralphalph

    I feel like I was just tricked into reading Mimi’s resume…

  • Unemployed_Northeastern

    I just ran across this article, even though it has been several months since it was put up. Dave, it may dishearten you to know that the law school has been touting that 40% co-op employment *fact* since at least 2003, and possibly earlier (my research hasn’t been exhaustive). They have never released granular information so as to be able to verify that percentage, and indeed through boom times and recessions, it remained steadfast (well, they used to say “on average, nearly 40% of our graduates” – at least until they outlandishly increased it to 48% in 2012. For the sake of argument, let’s take that “nearly 40 percent” to mean 38%, from 2003 through 2009, when the “nearly” disappeared without explanation. 40% for 2010 and 2011. It is mathematically impossible for the school to have reached decade-long 48% co-op employment rate in 2012. (38 * 7) + (40 * 2) = 346. Even if every graduate in 2012 landed a job from co-op, the ten year average would be (38 * 7) + (40 * 2) + 100 = 446, which results in an average of 44.6%. Hell, even if it was 40% from 2003 through 2011, 40 * 9 is only 360, meaning that the highest mathematically possible ten-year average would be 46%, not 48%.

    In my humble opinion, this marketing has been longstanding, deliberate, in flagrant violation of 8.4(c), and it is at least as worthy of punishment as other law schools’ false reporting of GPA and LSAT scores. Take a look at Emory Law professors Morgan Cloud and George Shepherd’s “Law Deans in Jail” or University of Missouri Law prof Ben Trachtenberg’s “Law School Marketing and Legal Ethics”; both are available on ssrn.

    Oh, and with regards to your statement in Part II that you haven’t met an unemployed Northeastern Law grad that regrets their decision, well, now you have.