THERE WERE NUMEROUS ARTICLES PUBLISHED IN THE RHODE ISLAND LAW TRIBUNE (now defunct) about this school also.. Basically this school is "piecemealed together" with "no hope of ever becoming respectable."
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Elizabeth Elmasian, another Roger Williams graduate, was able to land a $70,000-a-year job in a Providence insurance defense firm thanks to contacts she made before she became a member of the bar. But like Flood, she wanted courtroom experience, and took a job in Cranston paying tens of thousands of dollars less.
Five months ago, Elmasian decided to open her own firm on Westminster Street in downtown Providence. On top of rent and malpractice insurance premiums, she pays close to $1,000 a month on her law school debt. There's no money for a secretary.
She says she loves her work and helping people, particularly her immigrant clients. But she says, "I do my own paperwork, typing, and it's a struggle. Some weeks you make nothing; some weeks you make more."
Is it worth it?
"I'm still trying to figure that one out," she says.
THE BUSINESS is getting harder for everybody. Lawyers' billable hours were down slightly nationwide last year, according to Altman Weil.
In recent years, many insurance companies are handling their work in-house, creating less work for the firms that specialize in insurance defense work.
Oster, the former bar association president, says that Providence County juries are not awarding the large verdicts they used to bringing less money in contingency-fees cases into local firms.
Oster also says that there is less legal work around, in part because of the loss of much of the manufacturing industry here.
Public sector jobs are also scarce.
The Public Defender's Office and the Department of Attorney General, which traditionally have been first stops on the career paths of aspiring trial lawyers, have had little turnover in recent years. Last year each received close to 120 applications for fewer than 10 jobs in each place.
Lawyers are staying longer with the attorney general and public defender because the pay for these jobs, once much lower than what was offered in the private sector, is now good in comparison to what most lawyers find outside. Lawyers fresh out of law school can make almost $43,000 as a beginning prosecutor or defender of the indigent.
With many firms unable to afford the cost of hiring associates, more and more lawyers are solo practitioners, and Oster says that increasingly, they are practicing alone out of their houses.
DAVID CURTIN, the Supreme Court's disciplinary counsel, says because of the intense competition for clients he is receiving more complaints from lawyers accusing other lawyers of unethical conduct.
Curtin says he's received complaints that lawyers are paying "runners" to hang out at courthouses to find clients. The runners pass out lawyers' business cards to new arrestees. Sometimes, according to lawyers who have gotten into spats with them, they try to lure away clients who already have counsel.
Curtin says he has also "heard stories" about lawyers, in personal- injury cases, who will "give an up-front cash distribution to a client to help them with their living expenses, which is not allowed under the Rules of Professional Conduct."
Lawyer Mark Smith says that "the business is so competitive now that if a lawyer advertises he'll handle a divorce for $5,000, there's a guy around the corner who will do it for $1,000 and another guy around the corner who will do it for $750."
BUT THE NEW CROP of students at the Ralph R. Papitto School of Law at Roger Williams University are full of optimism. Many of them gave up lucrative careers to take on tens of thousands of dollars in debt to fulfill a dream of practicing law.
Rajeev Rumalla left a $70,000-a-year job in New York City as a health care management consultant to attend Roger Williams. He hopes to return to New York after graduation to work in health-care litigation.
Alissa Budd, 26, decided to live apart from her husband in rural New York so she could go to Roger Williams, where she got a scholarship. She and her spouse, who is a sheriff, inherited a 106- acre farm in Ulster County. But Budd says she likes Rhode Island so much, she may decide to work here.
Camille MacLean gave up an established career as a hair colorist in Providence to take on what she estimates will be $200,000 in debt to get a Roger Williams law degree.
Uwe Benjamin, of Warwick, a former football player at Northeastern University, quit a job as a paralegal in Taunton, Mass., to enroll at Roger Williams. "I think it's a great investment," he says. "I got high aspirations."
THERE ARE 245 new students at the law school this year the biggest class ever. In August, there weren't enough chairs to accommodate all of them when they met for an opening convocation ceremony at the Bristol campus.
"We're all about to embark on a tough journey," interim dean Bruce I. Kogan told the crowd. But law school, he said, "will prepare you for a lifetime in which clients will come to you and you will give them advice on problems they can't work out."
On this evening, Judge Williams also delivered some words of caution: "You are ascending one rung of one ladder, the admirable profession of law. No matter how well you navigate, it won't be all smooth sailing."
This summer, Diane Boisselle, the 1998 Roger Williams law school graduate now tending bar, decided to take the Massachusetts bar. She passed on her first try.
The thought of starting a practice in a state "where I had never set foot in court" is daunting, she says. "All my internships and clerkships were in Rhode Island. I've lived in Rhode Island most of my life."
But, she says, she is tired of sending out rsums and "getting no calls."
In Massachusetts, "I've heard you can start at $60,000.... One week this summer, there were 139 job openings advertised in Lawyer's Weekly there," Boisselle says.
She now has a placement agency helping her look for employment, casting a wider net over two states. But there are still no offers coming her way.
- TOMORROW: Graduates of the Ralph R. Papitto School of Law at Roger Williams University, the state's only law school, have a problem passing the Rhode Island bar. Forty to fifty percent who take the exam fail.
* * *
Frank Williams, the chief justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, says he has spoken with Sen. Joseph A. Montalbano about introducing a bill that would enable law school graduates who opt for careers in public service as judicial law clerks, public defenders and prosecutors to reduce their debt every year they remain in these jobs.
Im very concerned about the debt level these people are taking on, says Williams. Its enough to choke a horse.
He says he does not expect state legislators to enact such legislation soon. This is long-term, he says. But he thinks that if the legislators passed such a bill, it would benefit all Rhode Islanders.
It might bring better people into public-service law, where the jobs are historically low paid, the chief justice says.
* * *
* LAWYERS, LAWYERS EVERYWHERE - SEE JOURNAL GRAPHIC BY GEORGE SYLVIA
* * *
* IT'S A JOB: Diane Boisselle, 36, has a law degree, but still has to tend bar to pay her bills. She's not alone. Rhode Island is loaded with lawyers.
JOURNAL PHOTO / JOHN FREIDAH
* ON HER OWN: Elizabeth Elmasian opened her own law office in Providence earlier this year. After paying rent, malpractice insurance premiums and law-school debt each month, theres no money left for a secretary.
Journal photos / JOHN FREIDAH
* SUCCESS STORY: Alyssa V. Boss, valedictorian of her class at Roger Williams law, in 1997, now earns six figures at Hinckley, Allen & Snyder, a Rhode Island law firm.
Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.
People: Boisselle, Diane, Williams, Roger, Oster, Robert, Batastini, Armand E
Text Word Count 2918
Another PROVIDENCE JOURNAL article ...
I found this on Westlaw. Graduates just aren't successful out of this school. Many have demanded full tuition reimbursement after the school admitted to "manipulating the numbers."
* * *
* Since 1970, the number of lawyers licensed to practice in Rhode Island has grown from 676 to more than 5,200.
* * *
Diane Boisselle, 36, works as a bartender at a Woonsocket dance club, a job she's had for almost 12 years.
It's not the job she wants. A 1998 graduate of the Ralph R. Papitto School of Law at Roger Williams University, she wants to practice law and borrowed $70,000 to get her degree. But despite blanketing the state with rsums, Boisselle has not gotten one job offer in the 312 years she has been out of school.
She is frustrated. When she finally passed the Rhode Island Bar exam on the third try (after spending $2,400 on bar review courses), it took her almost eight months to even get an interview for a job. And then the three firms that did talk to her were only looking to hire someone for less than $30,000 a year. "And," she said, "no one made me an offer."
Undeterred - and to keep her lawyering skills fresh Boisselle spent thousands of dollars she made from bartending to set up an office at the Cumberland house she rents with two other women. She got a few clients from the bar, but never made enough to cover the cost of her stationery, business cards and computer equipment.
"If I would have known what I know today," says Boisselle, "I would have gone to another state first to take the exam rather than waste two years trying to pass the bar here and then not be able to find a job.
"Rhode Island is over-saturated with lawyers. I'll work 60 to 70 hours a week if someone would just give me a chance."
Boisselle's predicament is not unusual and shouldn't be very surprising.
Rhode Island's population has remained fairly constant over the past 30 years, hovering around 1 million. But since 1970, the number of lawyers licensed to practice in Rhode Island has exploded from 676 to more than 5,200, according to the state's bar association. And the competition for jobs keeps getting worse. This year alone, there were 219 lawyers sworn in as new members of the Rhode Island bar 60 more than last year.
The American Bar Association says that state statistics for 2000 indicate that Rhode Island is seventh in the country in the number of lawyers for capita, based on where they practice up from 14th in 1995.
The glut is worse in Massachusetts. According to the ABA, Massachusetts has more lawyers per resident than any other state in the country.
Sometimes you need an inside track to get started.
"I don't think I would have made it in this state without my dad," says Robert Oster, who recently stepped down as president of the Rhode Island Bar Association and who worked for years practicing law in Lincoln with his now-deceased father, Gerald.
Unless you graduate from law school at the top of your class or have connections in Rhode Island, he says, "you will have a hard time finding a job. There are some lawyers out there making big bucks, but we've also got some people out there who are literally starving."
And even if you get a job, chances are "you won't be driving a Mercedes," says Oster.
Mark L. Smith, a veteran sole practitioner with offices in Providence and Woonsocket, puts it more bluntly. "I could put an ad in the paper for a lawyer and pay them what I pay a secretary $20,000 and they'd take it just to get their foot in the door," Smith says.
George Santopietro, a partner in the Providence firm of Coia & Lepore, says some lawyers, desperate for work, apply for jobs as paralegals and secretaries just to get into a firm.
He says he has interviewed several Roger Williams law graduates for paralegal jobs, including one who applied to be a secretary at the firm. He hired one Roger Williams grad as a secretary/paralegal, he says, but she left the firm after several months when she failed to get promoted to a job as a lawyer. There haven't been any openings in the 140-lawyer firm in 112 years.
Earlier this year, he says, another Roger Williams grad applied to the firm as a paralegal, but Santopietro opted not to take her "because I wanted continuity .. someone who wouldn't be looking to move up the ladder."
Instead, he hired a legal secretary who had worked at another firm.
THERE ARE SUCCESS stories.
Armand E. Batastini graduated first in his class at Roger Williams in 1998 and landed a clerkship with former Rhode Island Supreme Court Chief Justice Joseph R. Weisberger. After his clerkship, Batastini landed an associate's job with Edwards & Angell, with a starting salary of $72,000. Now, just two years later, his salary has jumped to $102,000 and he and his wife have bought a $290,000 house in Glocester.
Alyssa Boss, who graduated a year before Batastini from Roger Williams, was valedictorian of her class and on the law review. A URI graduate with a master's degree who taught philosophy at Rhode Island College during her first year of law school, Boss, now 34, had two job offers from local firms. She now makes a six-figure salary at Hinckley, Allen & Snyder and last year bought a $255,000 house in Exeter.
But there are also experienced lawyers in Rhode Island who once would have had no trouble finding a job but who are now collecting unemployment, selling real estate, or working as insurance claims adjusters.
Shilpa Naik, 32, a graduate of Brandeis University, had no problem landing a good job in Rhode Island after graduating in 1994 from a law school in Springfield, Mass. She went to work as a prosecutor for then-Atty. Gen. Jeffrey B. Pine; she had interned in his office while a law student. She was earning $43,802 a year by the time Pine left office in January 1999, but his successor, Sheldon Whitehouse, didn't keep her.
It took her two years to find another job she wanted, one that pays her about two-thirds of what she was making for the attorney general. (One Providence firm offered her $21,000.) In her new job with the law office of Robert Oster, she works 60 to 70 hours a week, including Thursday nights and Saturday mornings, about twice the 35- hour work week she had with the state.
During her period of unemployment, Naik says "I thought hard about getting out of law because there are some opportunities out there and the pay for lawyers is pretty low and it's hard to find a job in Rhode Island."
NO ONE in the state keeps figures on how many unemployed lawyers there are in Rhode Island.
The Ralph R. Papitto School of Law at Roger Williams University School of Law which has pumped more lawyers into Rhode Island over the last five years than any other law school says it does not keep long-range statistics showing how many of its graduates have found employment in the field of law.
But it does query its graduates six months after graduation. According to statistics provided by the school, 64 percent of its first graduating class in 1996 had found full-time legal work within six months after graduation. But successive classes have not fared as well. Only 40 percent of the Class of 1999, for example, had found full-time jobs in the legal arena six months after graduation. And of the 85 percent who responded to a survey after graduating in 2000, only 56 percent had landed full-time jobs in the law.
"We have too many lawyers and law students," Rhode Island Supreme Court Justice Maureen McKenna Goldberg told Rhode Island Lawyers' Weekly in an interview last year. "It is difficult for many of these people to get jobs and to make a living."
The chief justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, Frank Williams, agrees there are a lot of lawyers. But Williams says he is not worried. The more the better, says Williams, "because the best will survive and the others will go do something else.
"It's part of the capitalistic system. You either survive by competence and hard work or you find another niche," says Williams, who is an adjunct professor of law at Roger Williams.
Many of those lawyers who do find work here make much less than others around the country. According to Altman Weil, a Philadelphia legal consulting firm, the median national income in 2000 for a partner in a law firm was $225,918; $96,824 for an associate and $49,341 for paralegals. Lawyers and paralegals working in Massachusetts and Connecticut were paid even higher.
But while the largest law firm in the state, Edwards & Angell, now pays a new associate $82,500 a year to start, most lawyers in Rhode Island, even those with several years' experience, make only $30,000 to 40,000 a year, says Oster, the former bar association president.
KEVIN FLOOD, 30, had been an administrative assistant to former Governor Bruce Sundlun when he enrolled in Roger Williams law school in 1995. When he passed the bar here in February 1999, he got a $40,000-a-year job as in-house counsel for the American Federation of Teachers.
Until recently, like several of his classmates, he lived with his parents so he could make payments on his law-school debt, which he estimates will end up costing him, with interest, $150,000. He also needed to save money so he could pay for his health insurance a benefit he lost when, in October 2000, he took a lower-paying job in the Providence firm of McKenney, Jeffrey & Quigley, to gain experience trying cases.
Bruce I. Kogan, the interim dean of the Roger Williams law school, former dean Harvey Rishikof and the state's former Chief Justice Joseph R. Weisberger downplay the importance of the problem Roger Williams students have passing the bar exam.
There's "no correlation" between a bar exam score and how he or she will perform as an attorney, Rishikof said in an interview before he resigned in June.
"Some who do well on these exams, later in their practices, have trouble with judgment issues ... Some people test well," Rishikof says, "but they can't talk to clients, and this includes graduates of the nation's top law schools."
Klein says "there is a correlation" between how well a person scores on the exam and his or her ability as a lawyer. However, he says, "a bar exam is not designed to determine what kind of lawyer a person will be. It's designed to determine whether people have mastered certain basic skills and knowledge. It's a test of minimum competency, no different from the medical boards or a CPA exam or a driver's test.
"Getting a high score on a driver's license test doesn't mean you're going to be a good driver on the road. But you don't want these people on the road if they can't pass the test," says Klein.
Roger Williams officials say one of the reasons why so many of their students have problems passing the Rhode Island bar exam is the way it is scored. Unlike Massachusetts and Connecticut which average the multiple choice and essay portions of the bar examinations to determine whether someone will pass the Rhode Island Board of Bar Examiners will not read the essay portion of a test unless the person achieves a set score on the multiple-choice section.
But the scoring system has been relaxed in recent years. In 1995 the year before the first 53 Roger Williams students sat for the bar the state Supreme Court raised by 10 points the minimum score needed to pass the multiple-choice portion of the exam. But by 1998, so many people were flunking the Rhode Island bar exam that the Supreme Court increased the number of times someone could take the test.
Weisberger says this was not done just for Roger Williams' benefit. Many people, he said, were coming in "with heart-rending requests that we couldn't do anything about," says Weisberger, "and the justices decided that the three-time limit was just too harsh."
Then, in 1999, the board of bar examiners did an about-face and lowered the minimum passing score for the multiple choice part of the exam.
Klein, the bar consultant from California, says that Rhode Island still seems to have one of the more stringent bar exam scoring systems in the country. According to Massachusetts bar officials, the pass rate for Roger Williams grads who took the Massachusetts bar in July 2000 was 71.8 percent.
And eight of the nine Roger Williams graduates who took the Connecticut bar in July 2000 were successful. The pass rate was just 59 percent for Roger Williams graduates who took the Rhode Island bar in July 2000.
Klein says that lower-tier schools can improve their bar passage rates, but they have to be willing to make changes in the way they operate.
He says he helped a lower-rung law school in California double its bar passage rate over a three-to-four-year period by convincing the school to do two things:
BUse a common syllabus and the same tests for each section of a course to ensure all of the material that should be taught in a course is covered.
BBe a bit less restrictive on who will be admitted, but then "close the door after the first year" so that the bottom quarter of every first-year class flunks out.
He says this severe pruning is necessary because "someone's first- year grades in law school are a better predictor of how well they will do on the bar exam than their LSAT scores or their undergraduate GPA."
Klein says law schools need to be concerned about their bar passage rates, because "the bottom line is your graduates should be able to practice whether they plan to or not. And whether they are going to practice should be the student's decision, not a decision that's made for them because they're unable to pass the bar."
The dismissal rate at Roger Williams has ranged from 4.3 percent to 13.3 percent of its first-year students.
Rishikof, the former dean, wanted to increase applications and then be more selective. He envisioned a school with class size of 150 to 170 appreciably smaller than this year's class. He believed that if he built up the credentials of the law school, he could improve the school's reputation and also its donor base.
He also wanted to get more Rhode Islanders, including members of the legal community, to support the school.
Roger Williams has a two-fold response to improve the school's stature. The school says Kogan, the acting dean, is working to upgrade computer technology available to its students and to raise more money for scholarships.
"We want to be able to attract higher caliber quality students to this school," Kogan says, "and in order to ratchet up the quality of the students, we need to raise endowed scholarship funds."
This is a copy of a real article published in the Providence Journal. It is objective Success eludes many R.I. law school grads
Part 2 of two parts.
A large percentage of those who graduate from the state's only law school are unable to pass the bar exam
Graduates of the Ralph R. Papitto School of Law at Roger Williams University have a problem passing the Rhode Island bar.
Forty to 50 percent of those who take the exam flunk.
A few weeks ago, results for the July examination were posted at the Rhode Island Supreme Court. While the overall pass rate was 70 percent, the success rate for Roger Williams graduates for first- time and repeat takers was only 54 percent.
And the 70 percent overall rate would have been much higher - 78.5 percent if the Roger Williams students had not been in the mix, according to the court.
Officials from Roger Williams say that eventually, most of the school's graduates who retake the exam will pass it and, they say, the school's bar passage rate will likely improve as the school continues to attract more students from out-of-state and is able to offer big scholarships to lure promising students away from other schools that offer less financial aid.
Still, since 1996 when the first crop of Roger Williams graduates sat for the Rhode Island bar the school's pass rate has never broken 70 percent, ranging from a low of 46 percent to a high of 67 percent. In comparison, the pass rate for everyone has ranged from 59 percent to 78 percent.
The one time that Roger Williams students had a pass rate higher than 60 percent was in February, two years after the state Supreme Court made it easier to pass the multiple-choice part of the test.
Many Roger Williams students can't pass the exam after four or five tries, something that was possible only after 1998 when the Supreme Court increased the number of times someone can take the test from three to five.
Bar officials and members of the judiciary many of whom teach as adjunct professors at Roger Williams say they are concerned.
"There's no question we were aware that the Roger Williams students haven't been doing well," says Providence lawyer Joseph V. Cavanagh Jr., a longtime member of the Rhode Island Board of Bar Examiners.
Rhode Islanders want Rhode Island's only law school to succeed.
The law school, which opened in 1993, has led to increased intellectual debate and a myriad of programs that have enriched the quality of life here. Roger Williams students are required, as part of their schooling, to perform free legal work for the disadvantaged. And Roger Williams students write law review articles critiquing decisions rendered by the state's judiciary.
The students who have come to Bristol to go to law school at Roger Williams University are from five countries, 39 states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands, and they have poured a lot of money into the state's economy. (The school costs a full-time student about $32,000 a year for tuition, room, board and books.)
This year, the school saw a 42 percent hike in the number of students who applied for admission the highest percentage increase in applications of any law school in the country, officials there say. This year's class of 245 is the largest, with 100 more students than last year's.
And the school says this new class is stronger academically and more diverse. When the school opened, 63 percent of the Roger Williams law students were Rhode Islanders. But now only 41 percent are.
Where do graduates work?
There are 334 members of the Rhode Island Bar who are graduates of the Ralph R. Papitto School of Law at Roger Williams University. Some have found lucrative jobs at Rhode Island firms. Others work for the Public Defender's Office, the attorney general's office, as clerks for the state's judges.
The chief justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, Frank Williams, teaches at the law school, and two of his law clerks are Roger Williams graduates.
Overall, the law school has graduated 700 students who have been admitted to the bar in 17 states.
Raising the bar
Stephen P. Klein, who has been a longtime consultant for the National Conference of Bar Examiners as well as for several law schools, says that performance gaps on bar exams among law schools "can be explained virtually completely by the differences in admissions standards the differences in the abilities of the students a school admits.
"The more selective schools get better students and they will generally do better on the bar exams," says Klein.
Boston College, Boston University and the University of Connecticut, which are ranked among the top 50 law schools in the country, are, for example, much more selective about their students.
Over the last nine years, Roger Williams has accepted an average of 56 percent of its applicants. In 1997, two-thirds of the students who applied were admitted.
In 1999, B.C. accepted only 26.5 percent of the people who applied for admission, B.U., 33.2 percent, and UConn., 37.6 percent. According to the 2001 ABA Guide to Approved Law Schools, the bar passage rates in Massachusetts are 92 percent for BC graduates, 89 percent for BU graduates, and 86 percent for U.Conn's graduates.