Thomas M. Cooley and New York Law School have pushed back hard against the class-action suits. NYLS recently filed to have its case dismissed, and last summer, after spotting an online ad posted by Anziska to recruit clients, Cooley sued Anziska and Strauss for defaming the school and “tortiously interfer[ing] with our student relationships.” Strauss calls the move “an intimidation tactic. We’re trying to slaughter their cash cow, and no one likes that.”
The American Bar Association, which accredits the bulk of law schools in the U.S., has signaled solidarity with the defendants. In January, William Robinson, the head of the ABA, told Reuters that aspiring lawyers make “a free choice” to pursue a J.D. “It’s inconceivable to me that someone with a college education, or a graduate-level education, would not know before deciding to go to law school that the economy has declined over the last several years and that the job market out there is not as opportune as it might have been five, six, seven, eight years ago,” Robinson said. (An ABA spokesman said Robinson would not comment directly on the ongoing litigation.)
Among alumni, opinions are split, as you might expect, according to which side of the unemployment line the graduate falls on. “Mathematically, it’s a ton of graduates, yes, and no, there aren’t enough jobs for them,” Daniel Gershburg, a 2006 graduate of NYLS and an attorney with a successful practice in Manhattan, says. “At the same time, what are schools supposed to say? ‘No, no, don’t come here! Run for your lives!’ Where does personal responsibility start?” Julia Shapiro, who graduated from NYLS in 2007—and who works as a lawyer in Los Angeles—puts it this way: “Suing the school is not going to help them find a job. I would not put my energy into wallowing in my sorrows.”
Last month, I was invited to meet with Carol Buckler, the interim dean at New York Law School. NYLS opened a 235,000-square-foot facility off Leonard Street in 2009, but Buckler’s airy, sun-soused office sits in an older building overlooking Church Street. During our conversation, Buckler suggested that plenty of students come to NYLS for reasons other than a ticket to a corporate gig. “We teach critical thinking, and writing, and so forth,” Buckler said. “And that’s always been the case, and those skills have always been useful. I guess I would say that it’s never been a good reason to go to law school or any grad school, because you think there’s a guarantee at the end. Whether that was twenty years ago or ten years ago or this year.”
The following day, I visited Anziska, Raimond, and Strauss at their offices on lower Broadway. They looked tired. The three were two weeks away from filing their second, bigger batch of class-action suits, and it was an “all-hands-on-deck situation,” Anziska said. For the cases outside New York, they needed the help of local lawyers. There was plenty of wrangling to do.
“The bottleneck on these lawsuits is not the amount of people who want to sue. The bottleneck is our ability to launch the suits,” Strauss said. “Let’s put it that way. It’s logistics.” He slid his glasses up his nose.
Much of the organizational work had fallen to Anziska, who seems most comfortable behind the scenes, manning the phones. He discussed the cases politely enough, but his mind was clearly elsewhere, and after a few minutes, he retreated to his desk with a wave.
“That guy is like General Patton and the Third Army in Germany,” Raimond said. “He’s a logistical genius.”
Anziska’s aptitude will be tested as the lawyers attempt to sue another “20 to 25” schools “every few months,” a goal Strauss recently outlined in a conference call with reporters. But first they must try to bat down the motion by NYLS to dismiss their lawsuit, which is scheduled to be taken up by a Manhattan judge on March 12. Perhaps because of the intensity with which the school’s attorneys have fought their case, Anziska, Raimond, and Strauss seem to have cultivated a special enmity for NYLS.
“NYLS has to put students in seats,” Strauss said. “That’s the system they set up for themselves. They’ve got a huge new building, gleaming classrooms, but they’re cutting corners on transparency. They’ve created this reality where the only way they can put people in seats is by misleading them.”
Late last year, Strauss noted, Senators Barbara Boxer and Tom Coburn had urged the Department of Education to investigate “the confluence of growing enrollments, steadily increasing tuition rates, and allegedly sluggish job placement” at law schools. The DOE has not yet committed to an investigation, but Strauss was heartened by the fact that the issue was gaining attention in halls of power.
Strauss added that he meets few fellow lawyers in New York these days who are not by now aware of the litigation. I asked him if that meant his colleagues supported the cause.
Strauss smiled. “Well, let’s put it this way. I think everyone is cheering for us, but not necessarily betting on us.”