Following up on yesterday's post, NY Times: Law Graduate Gets Her Day In Court, Suing Law School: Bloomberg View: Law Schools Should Have to Be Really Honest, by Noah Feldman (Harvard):
You’ll be forgiven for chuckling at the story that a former law student is suing her law school because she didn’t get a job she liked after graduation. ... But it’s significant that a California court is allowing her case to go to trial. It places the spotlight on an important question about how law schools in particular and universities generally recruit students. How accurate must they be in describing their merits and the accomplishments of their graduates? Is a school’s promotional material like advertising for any other product? Or should institutions of higher learning be held to a higher standard? ...
When you print out a report for a specific law school, you get a breakdown of the number of graduates who landed in each of these categories. As information goes, the ABA’s reports are pretty good.
Alaburda alleges that Thomas Jefferson employees were cooking the books, intentionally misreporting data to the ABA. If that’s true, then the ABA’s report is not very good.
The law school denies misrepresenting its data. But the court rejected the law school’s motion to dismiss the case before trial, finding that Alaburda had done enough to show a trial is necessary. A former law school employee has said that she was pressured to misrepresent data.
“I routinely recorded currently unemployed students as ‘employed’ if they had been employed at any time since graduation,” the employee declared in a statement submitted as part of the lawsuit. The ABA’s definitions specify that the graduate “must be performing the duties of the position” on the date of the report -- March 15 after graduation – to be counted as employed.
Assume for the sake of argument that Alaburda can prove it’s more likely than not that Thomas Jefferson systematically distorted employment data. In general, if you make a material misrepresentation and someone makes a contract with you because of that, you’ll be liable for damages suffered as a result. Think of a used-car dealer selling cars it knows to be lemons, while representing them as sound. Is this case parallel? Should Alaburda be able to recover damages? ...
A law school is supposed to train students to become members of a profession with a code of ethics that prohibits lying. If a law school actually has lied about its graduates’ achievements, it should be sanctioned. Money is a poor substitute for broad-based moral condemnation. But an award of damages is the tool that the law has to offer, for better or worse.