Paul L. Caron

Monday, March 7, 2016

NY Times:  Law Graduate Gets Her Day In Court, Suing Law School

Thomas Jefferson Logo (2015)New York Times, Law Graduate Gets Her Day in Court, Suing Law School:

Nearly a decade has passed since an aspiring young lawyer in California, Anna Alaburda, graduated in the top tier of her class, passed the state bar exam and set out to use the law degree she had spent about $150,000 to acquire.

But on Monday, in a San Diego courtroom, she will tell a story that has become all too familiar among law students in the United States: Since graduating from the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in 2008, she has yet to find a full-time salaried job as a lawyer.

From there, though, her story has taken an unusual twist: Ms. Alaburda, 37, is the first former law student whose case against a law school, charging that it inflated the employment data for its graduates as a way to lure students to enroll, will go to trial.

Other disgruntled students have tried to do the same. In the last several years, 15 lawsuits have sought to hold various law schools accountable for publicly listing information critics say was used to pump up alumni job numbers by counting part-time waitress and other similar, full-time jobs as employment. Only one suit besides Ms. Alaburda’s remains active.

None of the other cases reached trial because judges in Illinois, Michigan and New York, where several cases were filed, generally concluded that law students had opted for legal education at their own peril, and were sophisticated enough to have known that employment as a lawyer was not guaranteed.

But a California judge let Ms. Alaburda’s suit proceed, brushing aside efforts by the law school to derail her claims.

“It has taken five years,” said her lawyer, Brian A. Procel of Los Angeles. “But this will be the first time a law school will be on trial to defend its public employment figures.” ...

She now has student debt of $170,000, with loan interest around 8 percent. Her law degree was not a ticket to a stable, well-paying career, but an expensive detour before she went on to work in a series of part-time positions, mostly temporary jobs reviewing documents for law firms. ...

Thomas Jefferson’s average student indebtedness, then about $137,000 — higher than that at Stanford Law School the same year — was among the highest in the nation. She also pointed to her school’s bar passage rate as consistently lower than 50 percent, which was below the average in California.

Thomas Jefferson, like other accused law schools, maintained that it filed only the data that the American Bar Association’s accrediting body required. And judges largely agreed. Students would have to be “wearing blinders” not to see that a “goodly number of law school graduates toil (perhaps part time) in drudgery or have less than hugely successful careers,” Justice Melvin L. Schweitzer of New York Supreme Court wrote in 2012, dismissing a lawsuit by nine former students against New York School of Law. ...

The one lawsuit still pending, other than Ms. Alaburda’s, accuses Widener University School of Law, in Delaware, of posting employment data that included “any kind of job, no matter how unrelated to law.” A Federal District Court judge denied the case class-action status, and that decision is on appeal.

Judges in California, which has strong consumer protection laws, have offered more solace to the generation of lawyers who lost out in the legal market, allowing Ms. Alaburda and other plaintiffs there to go forward with claims.

(Hat Tip: Mike Talbert.) 

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

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So, she attended a Chevy Chevette law school and was expecting a Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham outcome?

Posted by: Captain Hruska Carswell, Continuance King | Mar 7, 2016 1:19:35 PM

Buried at the bottom of the NY Times story:

"Thomas Jefferson’s lawyers will argue that Ms. Alaburda never incurred any actual injury, because she was offered — and turned down — a law firm job with a $60,000 salary shortly after she graduated."

Too good to start at an entry level salary and work your way up? Turn down a job as a lawyer and then blame your law school for not getting you a job as a lawyer.

Posted by: Princess | Mar 7, 2016 12:23:19 PM

Think of how much more excited legal employers will be to hire her now that she's made herself famous for instigating law suits.

Posted by: Human Resources | Mar 7, 2016 12:16:34 PM