“Suing to Get More Time on Exams”

by Walter Olson on December 22, 2009

A suit against Princeton is the latest in a long succession to make headlines. [Kerr, Volokh]

{ 14 comments }

1 A.W. 12.22.09 at 8:42 am

…in which overlawyered pretends that the average student is so rolling in money that they can afford a frivolous and expensive suit with little hope of a damages award.

Sorry given the economic realities involved, in my mind such claims are presumptively true.

2 Frank 12.22.09 at 9:55 am

AW – she is a student at Princeton. It would not be a long-shot to bet she is indeed ‘rolling in money’

However, IMO even worse if true. I looked up receptive-expressive language disorder.

Those who allegedly suffer from this alleged disorder have trouble in particular with vocabulary – understanding new or even familiar words. They cannot answer yes or no, either/or, or other analytical questions. They do not understand written directions. They cannot express themselves verbally.

I don’t know. I realize that much of college is dev oted to teaching students how to act – how to work, but at least some part of it has to do with acquiring new knowledge and applying it.

3 A.W. 12.22.09 at 10:39 am

Frank

There is one little word that tells me everything I need to know about your attitude: “cannot.”

That is not the correct word. The correct word is actually a phrase: “has trouble with.” This person has trouble with those things. And given that she is in Princeton, I suspect she has overcome it to a degree that you apparently don’t believe is even possible.

What the nondisabled fundamentally don’t get is that these tests often are designed in a way that (usually unintentionally) overemphasizes the area affected with the disability.

I also suspect you googled it and got a simplified version that doesn’t precisely describe her manifestation of it. For instance, I have dysgraphia. And if you looked it up, it might tell you that I have trouble with written expression. And then you go, “oh, well, he can’t be a lawyer [as I am], because lawyers have to express themselves in writing.” What these sources often don’t mention is that there are at least 2 different disorders grouped together. One affects the ability to form content. I don’t have that version. The other impairs your fine motor skills resulting in difficulty writing by hand. That’s mine. And you might have already picked up on the nuance and the way around that limit: if I am allowed to use a computer I am pretty much normal.

So rather than googling it, or reading some medical text that you don’t understand, why don’t you actually talk to a person with the disorder and find out 1) how bad is it really, 2) what s/he has done to overcome it, and 3) are there ways around it? So instead of doing the usual “can you believe this handicapped person wants to be in college” routine, why not, you know, find out the facts?

And yes, I know it is Princeton. While I didn’t go to that particular private school, I did have a lot of classmates from Princeton in my law school and I can tell you that it is a complete myth to think everyone, or even most of the people, at Princeton is rich. To most of those students, the cost of a lawsuit would be termed “a lot of money.” I might add that this person is willing to be named before the whole world as disabled, something that might show up years later when applying for jobs. So given the disincentives arrayed against her right now, I would guess that the chances her suit has merit are probably very high.

By the way, I find it interesting that you cite the fact it is Princeton for the claim that she is rich girl, but not for the fact that Princeton, like many ivy league schools, doesn’t have the best track record in providing equality of opportunity.

4 nevins 12.22.09 at 12:51 pm

There was a time when people would have considered a career path that played to their strengths. Now they chase the dreams their parents have for them to the detriment of society and their own success and happiness.

Had a resident physician a few years back with the same condition (at least on paper) and an EIP. It took two years of everyone’s life, but finally she recognized that providing and leading care in a critical care setting wasn’t ever going to be possible as as an independent physician. She switched to psychiatry where I guess they don’t see language processing as a handicap.

5 A.W. 12.22.09 at 1:22 pm

Nevins

> There was a time when people would have considered a career path that played to their strengths

There was a time when we were not subject to half as much regulation. Abraham Lincoln, for instance, had practically no education but what he gave himself, became a lawyer and then president. Today you have to not only pass a test to become a lawyer, but also graduate law school. and that sounds all well and fine on paper, except that these exams often have a disparate impact that had nothing to do with their merits as lawyers.

The same is true accross the board.

maybe with her disabilities, she shouldn’t be a doctor. i don’t know, and you know what? you don’t either. but if we want to stop her from being a doctor then you need to confront that directly, not be exam discrimination.

6 Supremecourtjester 12.22.09 at 4:22 pm

When will the first law student sue for the right to counsel on a bar exam?

7 Jennifer 12.22.09 at 10:13 pm

I think I have a learning disability. Can I sue the judge to get more time to give my closing argument? Also, I only do well on exams if I take them in a special quiet environment without the usual distractions – so I’d like opposing counsel to be barred from making any objections during my examinations of witnesses.

8 A.W. 12.23.09 at 8:45 am

jennifer

haha. Hilarious uninformed stereotype of how LD’s are demonstrated, or what accommodations are reasonable.

God forbid you should ever have an LD child, because you will learn very quickly that LD’s are real, they are hard to fake, and the prejudice is prevalent.

9 Frank 12.23.09 at 10:17 am

It seems to me to be a poor idea that one should learn about something through personal anecdotal experience rather than through research of published sources. As a lawyer, you must have “looked up” some thing at some time. Did you find it an unreliable method?

An example of this would be your belief, based on your personal experience, that to most students at Princeton the cost of a lawsuit would be prohibitive. The school’s annual tuition is over $30,000 and the reality is most of the students’ families pay that freight without any assistance. You would have to research this information, of course. As the saying goes, if only there were some method of quickly retrieving and reviewing data from a variety of authoritative sources. I guess you could ask a friend and extrapolate from their experience.

I think you are right that “cannot” alone is too strong of a descriptor of this disability. I should have said ‘cannot at the level of a person of average abilities”.

10 A.W. 12.23.09 at 1:19 pm

Frank

> The school’s annual tuition is over $30,000 and the reality is most of the students’ families pay that freight without any assistance.

Really and you know this, how?

And personal experience does count for something. When you go to Yale Law School, you pay over $30,000 a year tuition. Probably more than that these days. Those students were generally not rich and generally needed loans to get through. And about 1/3 of my class went to Princeton. Given the additional cost of Yale, you have to assume that if anything the numbers were skewed toward the rich. Yet still, the vast majorities of Princeton students at my school were not from rich families, but were also obtaining massive student loans based on the belief that a Princeton/Yale education track meant they would be very rich in the future making their loans a fairly safe bet. The image of the ivy league just being a bunch of rich kids is more stereotype than fact.

You might discount that experience. But for me you seem to be a guy saying, “what should you believe? Me or your lying eyes?” To you Princeton students are an abstraction. For me, I can name many alumni.

Really, to suppose that for most Americans, or even most Princeton students, that after they pay $120,000 they can just plop down a bunch more money to start a frivolous lawsuit is a bit ridiculous.

When I took the LSAC, which runs the LSAT to court, that ran me $18,000 just for the preliminary injunction. To most people, even rich people, that is a lot of money. I am just fortunate that my parents had saved up that money to pay for law school, or else the money just wouldn’t have been there.

This picture you guys have of spoiled snotty LD-claimants just making up excuses for their own failures bears little resemblance to reality. I won’t say there is no fraud, but I will say it is exceedingly rare.

11 Hamilton Burger 12.24.09 at 11:00 pm

I had no idea that every plaintiff who files a meritless claim is wealthy.

12 Hamilton Burger 12.25.09 at 1:16 pm

And I had no idea that any claim filed by someone who is not wealthy is “presumptively true” – I must have missed that class.

13 Bill Poser 12.26.09 at 2:36 pm

Elite schools like Princeton generally have very extensive financial aid programs. Indeed, Harvard has long taken the position that no student will be prevented from attending due to lack of funds. According to this article:

Princeton’s class of 2012 is the 11th to matriculate since the University began revamping its financial aid practices to make a Princeton education more affordable to a broader range of students. This year, 697 freshmen, or a record 56 percent of the class, are receiving financial aid, compared to 671 freshmen, or 54 percent of the class, last year. The class includes 204 students from low-income backgrounds, or 16.4 percent of freshmen, compared to 188 low-income students, or 15 percent of the class of 2011. The average grant of $33,671 for a member of the class of 2012 is up from $31,187 a year earlier.

I’d say that it is quite false to assume that anyone attending Princeton is well off.

14 Dirk D 12.26.09 at 4:00 pm

“I’d say that it is quite false to assume that anyone attending Princeton is well off.”

No more false than assuming the validity of a suit because it happened to have been filed.

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