Law Schools Try the Nuremberg Defense on Law Job Reporting

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Over the past few years, a number of recent law school grads who are unemployed or underemployed have attempted to sue their alma mater, alleging that the school fraudulently misrepresented employment data. At one point, there were at least 15 lawsuits of the sort. The schools (many of which were, shall we say, not top tier) typically prevailed. Those cases were typically dismissed with logic along the lines of “sure, the data they reported was inflated, incomplete, and bad, but it wasn’t actually fraudulent.” Also, went the holdings in some cases, you are sophisticated enough to know better, even if you perhaps got bad information.

Finally, however, one of these cases is going to go to trial, and the defense turns upon “hey, the ABA told us it was just fine to report our employment statistics this way!”

Anna Alaburda, who graduated from Thomas Jefferson Law School (widely reviled as one of the worst law schools that is still somehow ABA-accredited) about ten years ago, has made it to the trial phase in her suit against the school. She racked up $170K in debt and alleges she has only gotten part time jobs like doc reviews. She filed her suit back in 2011, saying she wouldn’t have gone to Thomas Jefferson but for the allegedly fraudulent job stats. There are other ways in which Thomas Jefferson was no prize:

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.

Moreover, although legal employment was cratering around 2011, Thomas Jefferson still reported around 92% (!!) full-time employment for grads, a statement distinctly not borne out by the evidence.

Thomas Jefferson’s defense-and one that most law schools could probably lean on-is that they properly provided the employment info that was required by the ABA at that time. (The ABA has since revised and strengthened its requirements.) Even if true, it’s not clear whether that absolves Thomas Jefferson. There is plenty of blame to go around here.

Alaburda is a less than entirely sympathetic plaintiff, having turned down a $60,000/year job shortly after graduation, but her underlying point still may have merit: during the law school boom, which overlapped with the law school employment bust, schools kept enticing people to attend and implying they would get great jobs when they got out. It did not turn out that way for a lot of people and, if Alaburda prevails, there will be a lot more lawsuits.

Featured image: “business woman with falling down graph is confused” from Shutterstock.

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