Paul L. Caron

Friday, May 27, 2011

Grad Files $50m Class Action v. Law School for Misrepresenting Placement Data

Thomas Jefferson Law School Transparency reports that a Thomas Jefferson School of Law graduate filed a $50 million class action lawsuit yesterday alleging that the school has engaged in fraudulent and deceptive business practices in misrepresenting its post-graduation employment statistics.  From the complaint:

Plaintiff has been unable to secure a full time job as an attorney that pays more than non-legal jobs that are available to her, even though she graduated with honors from TJSL. Plaintiff would not have attended TJSL and incurred more than $150,000 in school loans if she knew the truth about her job prospects upon graduation. ...

At the end of the day, TJSL is more concerned with raking in millions of dollars in tuition and fees than educating and training its students. The disservice TJSL is doing to its students and society generally is readily apparent. Many TJSL graduates will never be offered work as attorneys or otherwise be in a position to profit from their law school education. And they will be forced to repay hundreds of thousands of dollars in school loans that are nearly impossible to discharge, even in bankruptcy. ...

Notwithstanding the economic recession that has crippled the job market for lawyers in the past years, TJSL has embarked on a campaign to expand its student body. Within the last three years (in the middle of the recession), TJSL increased its enrollment by 17 percent, with more than 680 students enrolled in 2011 (up from 580 students in 2008).


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So much misinformation here, posted as snark I guess? Or are the posters really this dumb?

She isn't pro se; this class-action is brought by a pretty decent Los Angeles litigation shop.

In 2005-2006, when she was researching law schools, the entire blogosphere wasn't filled with stories about the saturation of attorneys and how law school employment stats were inflated.

Caveat Emptor/"you should have done more due diligence" is not a good a good defense in consumer fraud cases or many investment fraud cases.

TJSL is the only party to have the information about employment outcomes of its own students; if it misreported this information to incoming students and USN&WR it was perpetuating a fraud no different than if the seller of a security (or home, or other product) purposefully disguises flaws in the good (painting/putty over termite damage to a house, rolling back the odometer on a car, selling a sterile horse as one that's good for breeding)

Posted by: TortStar | Jun 1, 2011 7:41:06 AM

Isn't the real fraud here that Thomas Jefferson had absolutely nothing to do with this school?

Posted by: Yammons | May 31, 2011 7:00:22 AM

This lawyer should join one of the armed services and serve as a JAG attorney.

Posted by: Davi | May 30, 2011 4:55:43 PM

What makes a person whose name is "Toad" assume the student "benefitted" from affirmative action"? What, is every educated woman an affirmative action beneficiary? There is no more reason to assume the lady did not get in on her own merit than there is to believe that the toad is blaming his miserable lot in life on women who took "his" seat in a university or got the job he felt entitled to merely because of his gender. Or was it the immigrant or the person of color, who caused others to forego your obvious brilliance? The irony is the extent to which your name corresponds to your preconceptions.

Posted by: Darryll Jones | May 30, 2011 8:24:48 AM

I don't think everyone knew that cigarettes caused cancer. Wasn't that a whistleblower case? (was the information available to the public?)

Anyways, today is not 1950. With a click of the key in a google search you can find more about the reality of law school employment statistics than you could read in a lifetime (heck, you could probably find that on TaxProf Blog alone). If this student relied on the glossy packet the school sent her rather than taking 10 minutes to see what the legal market was like and where alumni of the school are, then this suit borders on the line of frivolous and potentially merits sanctions against this person. Being sanctioned for bringing a frivolous lawsuit truly would be a outstanding legal education for this person.

And, of course, doesn't working on the lawsuit mean the student is employed? I mean, what could be more quintessential legal work than litigating a lawsuit, let alone a class action lawsuit?

Posted by: tax guy | May 30, 2011 5:43:35 AM

I see this as another example of a woman feeling entitled to something that a man would not feel entitled to.

Can anyone see a male graduate doing this?

Posted by: Toads | May 29, 2011 11:36:06 PM

There are SOOOOOO many ironies here.

1) Law Grad suing law school. Hey, at least she can file lawsuits on her own without retaining another lawyer, so she DID ultimately get something out of her JD.

2) Female (benefitting from AA) is pissed that the market is not paying her what she expects. Except that AA for her whole life has inflated her sense of what her true market value is.

3) Is there a better example of how America has too many lawyers? They have no one else left to fleece, so they sue each other.

The quality of life of every non-lawyer in America is inversely proportional to the collective income of all lawyers in America.

Posted by: Toads | May 29, 2011 11:29:32 PM

The issue isn't whether the plaintiff is a moron for believing law school propaganda. The issue is why a law school is producing propaganda in the first place. Like banks, government, newspapers, and churches, universities are going to be yet another institution that Americans lose trust in.

Posted by: Nobody | May 29, 2011 9:40:30 PM

Normally, upon hearing that a recent law school graduate was unhappy about not being able to get a job as an attorney after graduation, I'd feel a smug sense of schadenfraude and make an accordingly snide remark,m but not in this case. I applaude the young woman in question for putting her training to use. University academic programs, undergraduate as well as graduate-level, have been engaged in deceptive marketing practices for years, implying that their product is the assured gateway to a better life and well-paid career. To bolster their case, many schools have fudged the stats to make their product appear even more desireable. To put a cherry on the top of the cake, they've rammed through legislation that makes discharging student loan debt via bankrupcy impossible - which means that if you have fifty thousand in student loans, and can't get a job that pays better than $15/hour, you'll live in poverty (or your parent's basement) while you pay off them off. The colleges and universities get paid, and very handsomely, whether their product delivers the promised value and ROI or not. Head they win, tails you lose. Nice little scam if you can get away with it. Here's hoping that this young woman's example spreads to other fields, and puts some long overdue fear and accountability into corrupt universities and departments who've been pigs at the trough for too long. In traditional Chinese medicine, the custom used to be that the healer was paid only if the patient recovered from his ailment. Perhaps we need something like that in academia; the univesity gets paid only if you get work in your field.

Posted by: Georgiaboy61 | May 29, 2011 9:09:28 PM

Couldn't have happened to a nicer profession.

Posted by: ID | May 29, 2011 8:33:47 PM

On a related note, looks like an economist managed to calculate the "P/E ratio" of a college degree;

Posted by: Archer | May 29, 2011 5:53:33 PM

I'm a middle aged banker, but like many people I considered law school when I was in my 20's. 20+ years ago, with no internet to help me and the US News rankings not quite as prominent as they are now, I had no trouble identifying schools that had strong enough reputations in the Chicago area to be worth attending.

Did this young woman not know any lawyers in the geographic area where she wanted to practice to ask about reputation? Was she unaware of the substantial press regarding the huge number of lawyers in the US and equally huge rise in the number of law school students?

How hard would it have been to determine that Jefferson's place in the law school food chain(I've never heard of it, but that really doesn't say anything about the school) and that a law degree from said school might not be that worth while if she wanted to get into a top firm? Big firms recruit primarily from big schools. This is well known.

Caveat Emptor. If she relied primarily on school propaganda than it's her own fault for not doing her homework.

Finally, I have worked on relationships with some of the top firms in the US. They have reduced hiring, deferred start dates and cut associates, so even if Jefferson did puff up its stat's, the fact is that the the legal economy has been hurt just as badly as the rest of it and there are a lot of experienced lawyers looking for work and that places fresh grads a major disadvantage. A situation that the school could not reasonably have predicted.

Posted by: Dan Palmer | May 29, 2011 4:57:24 PM

Ken Royal has it right. This suit has merit if she can prove that the school fabricated its post graduate employment statistics. People have chosen to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars based upon fraudulent assurances of employment prospects. That is fraud. The complaint is very compelling. How can you possibly justify increasing the size of a fourth rate law school even in 2006 before the recession? The complaint alledges that the school counted anyone who got a job doing anything at any wage as "employed" for the purpose of the post graduate employment statistics in the yearly Useless News and World Distort rankings. That is fraud. And further, I think they should enjoy Useless News as a party. Why on earth are they publishing statistics that everyone in the industry knows are fraudulent and abetting these schools in their fraud?

What these schools do to these kids is a crime. I hope she wins.

Posted by: John | May 29, 2011 1:18:47 PM

Can't the law school argue that she can open her own practice and therefore it is irrelevant that other employers haven't offered her a job? If they can present even one classmate of hers who is self-employed, can't they say, "See, you could have hung out your own shingle, too."?

Posted by: Jack Olson | May 29, 2011 1:14:43 PM

Yeah, it'll be a riot to find out. Hundreds of thousands of lost dollars (what is that, 100 billable hours of make-work?) simply to determine we're overlawyered and over-legislated.

Which, if the field had any sense, willis's observation upthread would hold.

Adulthood means many things, not least that there are things you can do that you shouldn't.

Posted by: Ten | May 29, 2011 1:04:32 PM

It is deeply entertaining to see an organization who's business is training lawyers to produce a graduate- with honors, even- that believes they have a winnable case against the organization that trained them.

I don't know if the organization made an error and made themselves open to liability, or if the honors graduate is in fact undeserving of the honor, but it will be fun to find out.

Posted by: rosignol | May 29, 2011 12:32:29 PM

The suit may have merit if the girl can prove the university knowingly distorted or fabricated the data on job placement. It is a simple case of false advertising to the extreme. The school should not be accepting 100's of thousands of dollars from students if they are using fraudulent data to entice them to do so.

This is NOT a matter of the school simply not informing potential students of the their future prospects for employment, it is alleged they deliberately gave these students information that later proved to be false. Big difference. The girl probably should have done some due diligence too but that does not excuse the university of wrongdoing if the the allegations are true.

Posted by: Ken Royall | May 29, 2011 12:28:44 PM

I remember from Contracts I the concept of "puffery," the kind of representations which are not actionable. E.g., "We sell the best cars in America!" is puffery, even if the cars are not so great. But specific claims such as "Our cars have 0 miles on them," or "Our car all have their original paint job" are not puffery; they are actionable, if false (on both contract and tort theories.)

Now, which category does "95% of our recent graduates got jobs in the legal profession" belong to? That for the judge to answer when facing a Motion to Dismiss, but I'm guessing that this suit will survive such a motion, at least on that issue.

Posted by: Brian | May 29, 2011 12:07:04 PM

If she wins the suit, she has demonstrated the quality of the education she is suing over and must therefore return the money.

Posted by: willis | May 29, 2011 11:59:48 AM

If you click through to the complaint itself, the causes of action focus on misrepresentation of employment statistics and related fraud/concealment. By my brief scan, seems the allegation is that the school purposefully misrepresented its numbers to obtain improved rankings in US News etc., and the class of plaintiffs relied on that in their decision to first attend, to their detriment and the school's benefit.
By that allegation it's not all that relevant whether she passed the bar (it says she did & graduated w honors), or that the school prepared her well for law, or the economy tanked, or contrary information was out there. Whether it's flimsy or not would seem to depend on the basis for the numbers the school reported to US News et al., which I imagine the complainant has no idea - yet.

Posted by: Duke | May 29, 2011 11:51:46 AM

is "the victim could've possibly detected and thereby avoided our fraud" a defense in a suit like this?

Posted by: Lt. Weinburg | May 29, 2011 11:42:42 AM

Cigarettes didn't used to come with a warning. Everyone knew they caused cancer. Class action lawsuits changed that...

Posted by: anon | May 29, 2011 7:00:46 AM

Did this person pass the Bar? Open your own practice and stop whining.I guess he did- and the first client was themselves and the firswt case is the lawsuit! only in America.

Posted by: Nick | May 28, 2011 11:22:05 AM

Law school takes 3 years, and the economy can change a lot over three years. Unless the student can point to specific misrepresentations of historic facts, instead of incorrect predictions about the future, there is no fraud.

This law suit sounds a lot like a student trying to blame the law school for not predicting the start and end points of the Great Recession.

Well, most of the population didn't predict the great recession three years in advance, and that includes many economists, regulators, and financial professionals with better tools and better information than law schools. And experts continue to disagree about when the recession will end and how bad it will be until it does.

I hope this student finds work, but the complaint sounds flimsy.

A decision by the law school to expand its class size presumably reflects a reasonable belief by applicants that things will be better in a few years.

Posted by: reality bites | May 28, 2011 7:02:54 AM

How about the "it is public knowledge that those numbers are not all that they seem to be and a simple google search could have produced who knows how many hits debunking % employment at graduation and the REAL salaries law school grads make, if they are employed at all" defense?

do your homework (not just your law school homework). it is hard to be deceived by easily accessible common knowledge.

Posted by: tax guy | May 28, 2011 6:53:08 AM

Perhaps the law school's irony defense is the quality of the class action in demonstrating that it prepared its student well.

Posted by: Shag from Brookline | May 28, 2011 2:07:30 AM

Yes, Sid, we all got the irony.

On a different note, can the ABA please shut down a few law schools. We do not have to go crazy with it, but start with Thomas Jefferson School of Law, Thomas M. Cooley Law School (obviously), Golden Gate Law School, Florida Coastal Law School, and Western State Law School.

Posted by: Ouchie | May 27, 2011 4:47:06 PM

I'm not sure this is such a trivial suit. Let's say I bought an investment that advertised "95 percent of our investors receive a 10 percent annual return." It turned out that the return was calculated based on the assumption that anyone who wasn't actually starving had achieved a satisfactory return. Wouldn't that be an interesting law suit, and isn't that a little bit like what law schools are doing?

Posted by: mike livingston | May 27, 2011 2:14:17 PM

Law School Grad sues Law School. Am I the only one on whom the irony of this is not lost?

Posted by: Sid (real one) | May 27, 2011 12:49:09 PM