Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Bush's "Decision Points": in Defense of a Presidency

Love him or hate him, President George W. Bush's memoirs have an important place in the historical record and are a must-read for those who wish to understand the tumultuous past decade of American history.

Decision Points is best understood as President Bush's defense of his presidency. Bush obviously writes it from a biased, self-interested viewpoint. This is not an objective narrative, but that hardly renders it immaterial. Critics have made strong arguments against his presidency; this is President Bush's rebuttal.

I am pleased to say that I walked away with a superior understanding of some of the decisions he made. For example, I was surprised to learn that Bush attempted to convince Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco to concede control of the Hurricane Katrina response in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but Blanco adamantly refused to do so. Similarly, I had never really considered that Bush's decision not to immediately visit the Katrina disaster zone was due to the fact that emergency responders did not want him there, since his presence would divert resources from the response.

I was also fascinated by the behind-the-scenes look at his time in office. His narrative of the hours following the Sept. 11 attacks was insightful and dramatic, and his account of the various Iraq deliberations was also interesting. The details of his secret Thanksgiving trip to Baghdad following the invasion are quite riveting.

Of course, the book does not lack flaws. I looked forward to his thoughts on the Valerie Plame incident, but no mention was made. He also tried to defend his credentials as a fiscal conservative which is, well, an argument that he just can't win. Similarly, his defense of his Medicare expansion made me want to bang my head into the wall.

Despite these flaws, I really do classify the book as a must-read for anyone seeking a better understanding of the Bush presidency. You don't need to take his word as Gospel truth, but it certainly is worth more than a grain of salt.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

In Defense of Thomas Jefferson School of Law

Recent graduates from Thomas Jefferson School of Law ("TJSL") filed a class action lawsuit against their alma mater, alleging that it intentionally misrepresents its employment figures. This—the plaintiffs allege—caused them to attend TJSL, which they now regret because their career prospects are dim (also TJSL's fault, they allege).

Note to the plaintiffs: dragging your alma mater's name through the mud is no way to advance your career prospects; it actually harms the value of your degree. I'm just sayin'.

Now, looking at the merits, it seems to me that the plaintiffs face an uphill climb. Specifically, they may find it difficult to prove the following elements necessary for a successful intentional misrepresentation claim:
  1. that TJSL represented to the plaintiffs that an important fact was true, when it was actually false; and
  2. that the plaintiffs reasonably relied on TJSL's representation.
(1) It is unclear that TJSL falsely represented anything to the plaintiffs. Their primary contention appears to be that TJSL included non-lawyers in the employment data it submitted to U.S. News & World Report. This creates the illusion that 80 percent of its graduates become employed as lawyers within a few months of graduation, when in reality many found jobs in other fields.

This legerdemain may be misleading, but it is a common practice among law schools. The primary question is why it has taken U.S. News & World Report so long to close this gaping loophole.

Frankly, I do not see how a misrepresentation was made so long as TJSL provided data that conformed with U.S. News & World Report's loose standards, and so long as TJSL accurately reported this data to prospective students. Evidence that TJSL told prospective students that 80 percent of recent graduates become attorneys would, however, satisfy that element. We will see what comes out during discovery.

(2) It was not reasonable for the plaintiffs to rely upon TJSL's employment figures. Yes, the prospect of getting a job after graduation is important. However, it is bizarre to claim that this single data point controlled their decision to attend TJSL. Other factors, such as ranking, bar pass rate, location, professor quality, tuition/scholarships, and personal comfort seem to play larger roles.

However, one flagrant logical flaw probably defeats the whole claim. The complaint specifically alleges that more than 50 percent of TJSL graduates routinely fail the bar. Well, if that is the case, then why did the plaintiffs believe that 80 percent of TJSL alumni become attorneys within a few months of graduating?

Math may not be most attorneys' strong suit, but it does not take a rocket scientist to conclude that this is impossible. Maybe poor logical reasoning explains why the plaintiffs have not found attorney positions.

In conclusion, I don't think the plaintiffs have a very good case. It is unclear that TJSL misrepresented any facts to the plaintiffs, and even if it did, other factors made it unreasonable for plaintiffs to base their decision to attend TJSL upon that representation.

There is no doubt that TJSL—among other law schools—exposed a flaw in the U.S. News & World Report rankings. Fortunately, U.S. News has closed that loophole. There is no doubt that the job market out there is difficult, but TJSL is not to blame for that. As an East Village resident, I think the new TJSL campus adds a lot to my community. I just hope its reputation—which I can tell it is working hard to improve—is not harmed by what appears to be a meritless lawsuit.