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News Briefs—Iowa Has Lawyer Shortage; Retired Milbank Partner Takes on NYC Private School

Vivia Chen

May 14, 2012

Iowa_stamp_©tomograf_iStockphoto 1. Iowa is hot to trot. Want to get out of the big-city rat race? Or just need a job desperately? Well, Iowa might just be the place for you.

Small, rural towns in America have a lawyer shortage, reports The National Law Journal. The Iowa State Bar Association, for one, is looking for lawyers who want to settle down in small towns and be a legal generalist.

In fact, the Iowa bar has started a courtship program that matches students, mainly from law schools in the region, with solo practitioners in small Iowan firms for summer clerkships. "The hope is that those students will develop a taste for the work and either return after they graduate or set up their own small-town practices," said attorney Philip Garland, cochairman of the bar's rural practice committee.

So for those of you who complain about Big Law and sing the praises of country living, here's your chance.

2. Beleaguered private school parents should thank a retired Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCoy partner. As every New Yorker knows, Manhattan parents wouldn't think twice about burning their retirement fund to get their child into a good private school. But what you might not realize is that once you are in one of those precious schools (and your circumstances have changed), it's also very hard to get out of those schools without paying through the nose. (Keep in mind that tuition at some private schools in New York is now over $40,000. Warning: If you don't live in Manhattan, this story might not resonate.)

The New York Times reports that "since 2009, at least four private schools in New York City—Mandell, Friends Seminary, Claremont Prep (now Léman Manhattan Preparatory School), and the Little Red School House and [sister school] Elisabeth Irwin High School—have sued parents for tuition." The schools’ argument is that once parents sign a contract for the upcoming school  year, they have to pay—even if the family moves out of the city, and even if that spot is filled by another child.

What's more, the article says that schools are bullying parents to get the money: "Some parents have reported being threatened with debt collectors, leading many to cave and pay for an education their child will not receive. And defending a lawsuit is often not financially worthwhile, as the cost of a lawyer can approach the amount the school is demanding."

But alas for the schools, a retired Milbank  partner has come to the rescue. The case involved Sarah Brooks, the daughter of retired Milbank partner Russell Brooks. After she signed the contract and paid the deposit for her child to attend the Park West Montessori preschool in New York in 2007, Sarah Brooks got a teaching position at the University of Virginia. She notified the school about her move, and the school promptly demanded the rest of the tuition.

To make a long story short, Brooks won a ruling on behalf of his daughter that required the school to turn over evidence that it had suffered financial harm as a result of the withdrawal.

“They had no damages," Brooks told the NYT. "The entire contract amount—the deposit amount plus what they were seeking—would be a windfall to them, because they could fill up the spot in the class from the waiting list." (Brooks told the NYT that the school dropped its demand for the entire tuition amount.)

Who says that a retired lawyer can't make a difference in people's lives? Okay, this might not be as noble as representing the oppressed or the indigent, but in New York City, it's up there.

 

 

Comments

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Folks who want to rely on this story about private schools in NYC suing for tuition should check the Correction published by the NYTimes a couple of days later. For one thing, the "four schools" part is wrong, in that it doesn't distinguish between schools that seek to enforce a no-cancellation clause (i.e. forfeit for backing out to enroll elsewhere) and schools that merely seek compensation for education that was actually accepted by the family and rendered (i.e. past due bills).

Ho-hum. I can see why not too many comments today. Still, there is a good point to be made from this post. The media, in conspiracy with law schools I will admit, perpetuate the practice of law as some sort of inevitable get rich in a tall high rise building somewhere profession. You talk about the Iowa situation as though it represents the exception rather than the rule and that's why there are hordes of ignorant applicants clamoring even to get into (gasp!!!) the dreaded fourth tier law school. The true practice of law -- as opposed to Biglaw, about which you and your readers seem so fascinated and satisfied that you were once there -- is practiced in small groups by people whose reward comes more from the prestige rather than the financial compensation. The true practice of law is more akin to being a military officer, a firefighter, or a police officer. All very honorable but hardly the road to wealth and fame. Even one of my favorite shows, "Harry's Law" has taken the bait and moved from the hood to something a little more "traditional" at least in the minds of the media. And "The Good Wife" needs its primary plot -- a wife whose attorney husband got caught with his pants down -- to make the show interesting because (1) most of the legal world is not comprised of well dressed litigators who seem to have plenty of clients willing to pay whatever is asked, and (2) real legal work is hard and, at best, a ticket to the middle class not an easy street to wealth and fame. So you missed an opportunity to debunk the popular notion that law practice is as seen on TV, the same notion that continues to drives sheep to the Law Schools in droves even though there are no such jobs, except in small town Iowa and the like.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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