Becoming a lawyer is a long and testing road. It involves working hard through high school to achieve the marks necessary to get into law school in the first place. Those who make the cut undertake years of difficult university studies – accruing a sizable HECS debt and losing employment opportunities along the way.
Many dedicated students who successfully complete their law degrees can then expect to pay for and complete a graduate diploma in legal practice, made up of more study and practical legal training.
After finally getting a practising certificate, many graduates find that jobs at law firms in Sydney are few and far between.
And this is not just the case in Australia – the situation is similar in many other countries, including the United States and United Kingdom.
Graduate Sues Law School
One graduate of Thomas Jefferson Law School in San Diego, California has decided to sue her law school after not being able to find her desired job despite graduating at the top of her class.
37-year-old Anna Alaburda spent many years and around $150,000 completing her law degree. Ten years later, she still hasn’t found the job she desires.
Ms Alaburda alleges her law school was dishonest about employment prospects for graduates, saying that deceptive graduate employment statistics were used to entice her and other students to sign up and hand over their money. She claims if she had known about the reality of her job prospects, she would never have enrolled in the first place.
The disillusioned graduate may have a case – a former employee of the university has indicated she will testify that she was pressured to exaggerate graduate employment figures.
Ms Alaburda’s lawsuit isn’t the first against the school: fifteen other graduates have brought similar claims. They generally allege that the university uses unethical tactics to lure students, including counting part time jobs as waitresses, pool cleaners and sales assistants in their graduate statistics. They say that by doing this, the school makes it appear that a high percentage of students find relevant work – boasting a 90% employment rate in 2010.
Fellow graduate Clark Moffatt launched a lawsuit against the school in 2012. Since graduating that year, Mr Moffat has been unable to gain a legal job – he is currently receiving food stamps and living in a mobile home with his wife and children.
Many of the lawsuits never make it to trial, with judges often deciding at preliminary hearings that students were aware that a job was not guaranteed. But Ms Alaburda’s case has been allowed to proceed.
Thomas Jefferson School of Law denies the allegations– pointing to the fact she was offered a $60,000 position shortly after graduating.
Ms Alaburda acknowledges the job offer but says it was “less favourable than non-law-related jobs that were available.”
She is seeking $125,000 in damages.
Aussie Teen Sues High School
Several years ago in Australia, 18-year-old Rose Ashton-Weir had her heard set on becoming a lawyer.
But Rose’s marks were not enough to get her into her dream degree at the University of Sydney. Ms Ashton-Weir attended Geelong Grammar School in years nine and ten, before completing her high school certificate at a TAFE college in Sydney.
Despite not attending her senior years at the school, Ms Ashton-Weir claims: “I didn’t ever feel I was getting the support I needed to really excel.”
Her mother, Elizabeth Weir, also sued on the ground that she lost money by giving up her chocolate fortune cookie business to move to Sydney with her daughter. She believes that she would have made $450,000 from the business if she had not done so.
But the Ashton-Weirs were unsuccessful in their fight for compensation. Ian Lulham, the President of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, found that the school was not responsible for Rose’s failure.
Evidence from teachers at the school suggested Rose skipped classes, and failed to take advantage of school tutoring facilities which were available to her at the time. Mr Lulham remarked: “Support does not mean that the school does the work for the student.”
These cases demonstrate the highly competitive environment for those who wish to enter the legal profession; whether at the point of entry into a degree or after graduation.