Law School on Trial Over Employment Stats of Grads

Thomas Jefferson School of Law (TJSL), an independent law school located in San Diego, California, is being sued.  The claim is that the law school inflated its employment statistics.  So, what’s new?  There have been such allegations, and cases brought before.

What’s different this time is that this case is going to trial.

According to the legal site Above the Law:

  • While many other law schools have been taken to court over issues similar to the ones presented in the Alaburda case, never before has a law school been forced to actually stand trial for allegedly inflating its employment statistics. This is historic.

As the American Bar Association Journal put it:

  • The four plaintiffs allege the school violated California law regarding unfair business practices, false advertising and consumer protection, and committed the torts of intentional fraud, negligent misrepresentation and negligence.

Judge Joel M. Pressman of the Superior Court wrote in his decision that:

  • “[The four] Plaintiffs have all stated they believed that the employment statistics in U.S. News & World Report reflected the status of graduates who either worked in a professional capacity, worked as attorneys or worked in law-related jobs.”

Pressman looked to ‘the ‘methodology’ section in U.S. News & World Report.  “It states: ‘Employed graduates includes those reported as working or pursuing graduate degrees.’”  In other words, ‘Employed graduates’ doesn’t necessary mean that the graduates are employed as lawyers (or doing law-related work).

However, even though the four plaintiffs may not have read or understood the ‘fine print’ (By the way, should we worry about future lawyers who do not read or understand the fine print?), they may still win their case against the law school.

Pressman writes in his decision that:

  • The ‘methodology’ section in U.S. News & World Report is not necessarily dispositive.
  • 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. A reasonable consumer expects the employment figure to include graduates who work in law-related jobs.

The law school tried to ward off the allegations by looking to an out-of-state (out of CA, that is) case, Gomez-Jimenez v. New York Law School, arguing “that plaintiffs could have conducted a reasonable investigation to determine the relevant information regarding the employment numbers.” Pressman responded that the Gomez case is not binding on the court (because it was decided out-of-state) and, in any event, in Gomez, no one alleged that there were inflated employment figures (and so the facts of Gomez are ‘distinguishable’ from the facts in the case against TJSL).

Among TJSL’s other arguments was this one:  that the plaintiffs had considered other factors – in addition to the employment figures – when making their choices about law school; factors including cost, ABA approval and location.

Pressman answered that “plaintiffs do not need to show that the misrepresentation was the sole or predominant or decisive factor.” Rather, there is a factual question that must be considered at a trial.

I don’t know how this case will be decided.  But something that I can say is this:  at least a few law schools are nervously watching this one.

For anyone interested, I’ve also written on Should I go to law school? and The NYT on the law school debt crisis.

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All blog posts are for information purposes, and should not be considered as legal advice.