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Law schools face lawsuits over job-placement claims

Updated at 1:35 p.m. ET on Feb. 3: In a statement sent Friday, a spokesperson for Brooklyn Law School said about the lawsuit:  “These claims are without merit and we will vigorously defend against them in court.”

Original post: Adam Bevelacqua graduated from Brooklyn Law School last year with $100,000 in debt but high hopes for his future.

He passed the bar on his first try in New York and had internships to highlight on his resume. And, according to his research, the school’s job placement rate for new graduates was between 90 to 95 percent.

But Bevelacqua, 29, is no longer as optimistic.

“I’ve been looking for work ever since,” Bevelacqua told msnbc.com. “The jobs aren’t really there.”

On Wednesday, Bevelacqua joined 50 other law school graduates from across the country who sued their alma maters, alleging they were misled about job prospects and burdened with huge amounts of student debt.

The 12 lawsuits mark the latest round of litigation against law schools for allegedly misrepresenting their employment data. Last year, similar lawsuits were filed against New York Law School, Thomas M. Cooley Law School and Thomas Jefferson School of Law.

“We believe that some in the legal academy have done a disservice to the profession and the nation by saddling tens of thousands of young lawyers with massive debt for a degree worth far less than advertised,” said  David Anziska, a New York City attorney for the plaintiffs in three of the lawsuits filed.

He said the goal was to get law schools “to take responsibility, provide compensation and commit to transparency.”

The issue of transparency has gotten national attention beyond the lawsuits.

Last year, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. , asked the Department of Education to investigate the “job placement rates of American law school graduates; indicating whether such jobs are full- or part-time positions, whether they require a law degree, and whether they were maintained a year after employment."  A call Thursday by msnbc.com to Sen. Boxer's office was not immediately returned.

The American Bar Association has already taken some steps to improve accountability among the law schools it accredits. In January, an ABA committee approved rules that could force law schools to disclose more detailed information about graduate job placement.

A call to the ABA by msnbc.com wasn’t immediately returned on Thursday.

Bevelacqua, who lives in Long Island, said he decided to join the lawsuit against Brooklyn Law in hopes of pushing the schools to provide more accurate data, especially as they continue to increase their tuitions and enrollments. The current tuition at Brooklyn Law, not including housing and living expenses, is more than $48,000 annually. “Schools won’t take people seriously unless there is an economic threat,” he said. 

Besides Brooklyn Law, the schools named in the latest round of lawsuits are Albany Law School, Albany, N.Y.; Hofstra Law School, Hempstead, N.Y.; California Western, San Diego, Calif., Golden Gate University, San Francisco;  Southwestern Law School, Los Angeles, Calif.; University of San Francisco School of Law, San Francisco; IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, Chicago; DePaul University College of Law, Chicago; The John Marshall Law School, Chicago; Florida Coastal School of Law, Jacksonville, Fla.; and Widener University School of Law, in Wilmington, Del.

A spokeswoman at Brooklyn Law told msnbc.com that the school had just gotten the complaint and was unable to comment on it. She did point out employment statistics for the class of 2010, reflected on the school’s website, which showed an overall job placement rate of 88.1 percent.

Bevelacqua hopes he’ll be sworn into the bar next month, when he plans to start taking cases as a solo practitioner. In the meantime, he’s been making ends meet with temporary jobs, including a babysitting job this week that promises to pay him $150.

While he’s always wanted to be a lawyer, working on criminal and family court cases, he says he’d tell prospective students think twice before making that investment.

“If they’re going to law school because they think it will open up a lot of employment doors for them, “ he said, “I’d tell them to forget it.”

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