On Monday, lawyers for Thomas Jefferson School of Law (TJSL), were in court to defend the school against allegations it manipulated post-graduation statistics.
That’s noteworthy as it’s the first case to go to trial accusing a law school of intentionally using inflated post-graduation employment figures and salaries in order to defraud applicants.
The case centres on Anna Alaburda, a 37-year-old graduate of TJSL. Her lawsuit claims she has sent her resume to more than 150 law firms, and only received one job offer, which “was less favourable than non-law related jobs that were available to her.”
Alaburda’s case against TJSL started in 2011, when she filed a proposed class action seeking to represent graduates who had allegedly been duped by the law school.
“Mark Twain once said, ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.’ This case covers all three,” stated a 2011 filing of the case.
However, in 2013, a California judge refused to give the suit class-action status, meaning she must pursue the complaint on her own behalf.
The school has been accused of reporting post-graduation employment figures that topped 90% in 2010 but neglecting to disclose that the figures included part-time work, such as pool cleaner and Victoria’s Secret sales clerk, the Associated Press reported in December, citing a separate suit against TJSL and a lawyer for Alaburda.
Further, TJSL graduates have highest amounts of debt for law schools, based on a 2014 ranking by the US News & World Report, with an average of about $172,000, Above the Law reports. The top three schools on the list are:
- Thomas Jefferson School of Law: $172,445 (91% of grads have debt)
- New York Law School: $166,622 (83% of grads have debt)
- Northwestern University: $163,065 (80% of grads have debt)
For its part,
TJSL stands by the assertion that its graduates find successful employment after attending the school.
“We have a strong track record of producing successful graduates, with 7,000 alumni working nationally and internationally,” Thomas Guernsey, dean of TJSL, told Business Insider in a statement.
And not all students feel that TJSL ripped them off. Many are grateful that TJSL gave them the opportunity to attend law school when few others did.
“Thomas Jefferson gave me a chance where other law schools didn’t,” David Gibbs, a 2012 graduate, told Business Insider’s Erin Fuchs.
TJSL was founded as the Western State University College of Law, a for-profit law school owned by Education Management Corporation (EDMC). TJSL became independent in 1995, and the school became a private, nonprofit law school accredited by the ABA in 2001.
Graduates of law schools filed more than a dozen proposed class-action lawsuits in 2011 and 2012 alone, according to The Wall Street Journal. These suits claimed the schools defrauded graduates into thinking employment prospects were rosier than they really were.
But judges have thrown out most of these suits, disagreeing with the premise that law students were defrauded.
In October, a Florida judge threw out a suit against Florida Coastal School of Law, saying that applicants to the school are “a sophisticated subset of education consumers, capable of sifting through data and weighing alternatives,” The Journal reported.
However, in ruling the case must proceed, Judge Joel Pressman seemed to accept the argument that TJSL may have misled prospective students by allegedly including non-law jobs in its employment statistics.
“A reasonable consumer would not believe employment figures included any and all employment, which would render the figure meaningless in the context of a legal education,” the judge wrote in his opinion, according to Above the Law. “A reasonable consumer expects the employment figure to include graduates who work in law-related jobs.”
TJSL was not immediately available for comment.
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