Paul L. Caron

Monday, February 27, 2012

Cloud & Shepherd: Law Deans May Go to Jail for Submitting False Data to U.S. News

Morgan Cloud (Emory) & George B. Shepherd (Emory), Law Deans In Jail:

A most unlikely collection of suspects -- law schools, their deans, U.S. News & World Report and its employees -- may have committed felonies by publishing false information as part of U.S. News' ranking of law schools. The possible federal felonies include mail and wire fraud, conspiracy, racketeering, and making false statements. Employees of law schools and U.S. News who committed these crimes can be punished as individuals, and under federal law the schools and U.S. News would likely be criminally liable for their agents' crimes.

Some law schools and their deans submitted false information about the schools' expenditures and their students' undergraduate grades and LSAT scores. Others submitted information that may have been literally true but was misleading. Examples include misleading statistics about recent graduates' employment rates and students' undergraduate grades and LSAT scores.

U.S. News itself may have committed mail and wire fraud. It has republished, and sold for profit, data submitted by law schools without verifying the data's accuracy, despite being aware that at least some schools were submitting false and misleading data. U.S. News refused to correct incorrect data and rankings errors and continued to sell that information even after individual schools confessed that they had submitted false information. In addition, U.S. News marketed its surveys and rankings as valid although they were riddled with fundamental methodological errors.

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First off, the article CLEARLY states that the data collected regarding reported employment rates from schools is from the US News rankings first sold in March 2011. If you check those rankings, you will find that the authors chose not to include Emory’s reported employment rates because they are not listed according to US News in March 2011 as being over 90%.

Second, I think the authors make it a point to agree with many of you in that there IS a problem with the methodology used by US News when it comes to the lack of distinction between legal and non-legal jobs being used in employment statistics. They express direct concern for students choosing a school based on employment rates without knowing that that could mean working minimum wage at a restaurant. If you attend law school, it is assumed by most that your goal is to work in the legal field. The authors point out that it could possibly be criminal to report someone in a non-legal job as employed because they assume someone entering law school is hoping to become employed at the end in the legal field. If one is basing their decision to attend a certain law school on their ability to obtain a legal job after graduation, is it not deceptive and fraudulent to include jobs that have no relation to law?

As someone who is currently applying to graduate school, I appreciate the courage of the authors to discuss potential deceptive behavior committed by schools and media outlets. Many of us applying DO base our decisions on employment data of past students. We deserve to know exactly what that data means, and I sincerely hope that the authors of this article have sparked positive change.

Posted by: KB16 | Mar 7, 2012 3:43:03 PM

With the exception of murder, drug dealing and stealing client funds, lawyers as a class pretty much ignore the law.

Posted by: save_the_rustbelt | Feb 28, 2012 7:10:30 AM

Holding education institutions and reporters to the standards they demand for other businesses? Brilliant!

Posted by: thomass | Feb 27, 2012 9:51:44 PM

"Law Deans in Jail" sounds like a kind of misleading title designed to fraudulently inflate Professors' SSRN download statistics. I am thinking of writing a scholarly article on whether criminal sanctions could be applied to such misleading article titles; I was thinking of calling it "Emory Professors in Jail."

Posted by: DailyK | Feb 27, 2012 4:35:19 PM

I wonder how the authors of this article would have reported to US News a graduate with a high paying full time permanent non-legal job at an investment bank? They seem to say it is criminal to report that individual as employed; but it also seems inaccurate to report them as unemployed. What category would they suggest? How about a graduate who gets a one year stint as a White House Fellow? Is it criminal not to report them as unemployed, because the job is temporary?

Posted by: Griggs | Feb 27, 2012 3:47:34 PM

The authors of the article say:
1) Reporting someone in a non-legal job as "employed" to U.S. News would be fraudulent and criminal.
2) U.S. News permits schools to report that someone in a non-legal job is "employed."

The US News methodology, at least for stats published to date, does not have a category for "employed, but non-legal." Schools are forced to choose between "employed" or "not employed" categories which does not take into account the full range of possible outcomes.

For example, Barack Obama is a law school graduate, is employed, but in a job for which a JD is not required or preferred (and a temporary one at that). That's an extreme example, why do we take it as an article of faith that everyone in a non-legal job at every school is the stereotypical Starbucks barista, such that it can be assumed without even a citation on a supposedly scholarly article such at this?

Posted by: Jess | Feb 27, 2012 2:44:55 PM

I assume the authors thought that an entity known as "U.S. News" must be a federal agency. They may be surprised to learn it is a magazine, much like TV Guide, Cigar Afficianado or Cat Fancy, or was once a magazine anyway.

People pay way too much attention to U.S. News, and this article is one example of that.

Posted by: JD | Feb 27, 2012 1:21:49 PM

There are few things that warm the cockles of my heart quite like a sleazy lawyer in the dock, sweating profusely as he is grilled by another sleazy lawyer.

Posted by: Gerry N. | Feb 27, 2012 1:19:44 PM

tl;dr version: Emory dropped 8 places in US News last year; so US News and every other law school should go to jail.

Posted by: Lance | Feb 27, 2012 1:13:14 PM

OK, the law schools may have committed fraud (lied for the material gain of the tuition they fooled people to pay), but the idea that we should prosecute the media for fraud based on the gain of being merely that they are selling their magazines (or advertising) for money is a real tough line for me to cross. It means a lot of potential prosecutions for any kind of lie or libel in the press. Certainly I'd prosecute a journalist if they took bribes to knowingly print lies, but otherwise we have a serious threat to the First Amendment when the government can make a criminal case out of a claimed lie.

Posted by: DWPittelli | Feb 27, 2012 1:05:16 PM

As the InstaPundit would say, "Heh."

Posted by: Larry J | Feb 27, 2012 12:12:21 PM

It's starting to look a lot like Christmas ....

Posted by: memomachine | Feb 27, 2012 12:10:09 PM

These Emory profs with great indignation list 59 schools other than Emory which listed employment rates greater than 90% (see fn 12 of the paper). But they do not mention Emory, so I looked on their website to see what percentage Emory was listing, and the latest they have is 2009 stats which say 93% employment rate:

I assume that means the Emory folks will be going to jail too.

Posted by: Kipper | Feb 27, 2012 12:06:56 PM

Sue, and sue, and sue some more! Nothing warms my heart as much as a bunch of pestiferous lawyer parasites suing the britches off each other. Like a feeding frenzy of sharks, or a mutiny on a pirate ship. May they all end up bankrupt, imprisoned, or both.

Posted by: John Skookum | Feb 27, 2012 12:02:30 PM

About time...but still...Holy batsh*t!, this is going to shake some things up.

Right about now, cold trickles of sweat are running down the spines of guilty minds, nestling in those nether regions so soon to be plowed in the prison showers...

Posted by: sc721 | Feb 27, 2012 11:58:11 AM

Well, this seems simple to me. Compel them to submit an issue in US News and World Report with the REAL STATS for the last 10 years and admit that they lied.

Oh, sure... like that will ever happen. But it would be the best way to resolve this without criminal prosecution.

Posted by: jgreene | Feb 27, 2012 11:49:12 AM


Wake me up when anyone faces actual criminal sanction for these lies.

Posted by: looking closely | Feb 27, 2012 11:45:22 AM

With our current legal system, we all commit crimes throughout the day. The true power lies with the prosecutors and lawyers who selectively enforce laws on particular persons.

In other words, don't expect anything to happen to these lawyers for breaking mail and wire fraud laws.

Posted by: ID | Feb 27, 2012 11:41:48 AM

The perp walks could amount to a parade.

Posted by: PTL | Feb 27, 2012 11:25:18 AM