Thursday, February 2, 2012

12 More Law Schools Sued Over Job Statistics Fraud

SAN DIEGO - Yesterday, 12 more lawsuits by more than 73 former students were filed or will be filed against law schools that allegedly massaged graduate employment data by compiling salary figures from a small, unrepresentative sample of recent graduates and by counting low-paying, nonlegal temp jobs. So far, none of the top 50 law schools have been sued, but this class action certainly is a wake up call to the top-tier law schools to clean up their act, as necessary, too.

The Lawsuits

The class action is against law schools in California (California Western, Golden Gate, Southwestern, University of San Francisco), New York (Albany, Brooklyn, Hofstra), Florida (Florida Coastal), Delaware (Widener), and Illinois (IIT Chicago-Kent, DePaul, John Marshall). Plaintiff graduates claim they were fraudulently misled by the schools' employment statistics into taking on massive debt load which became nearly impossible to service after graduation. Plaintiffs seek tuition refund, disgorgement of profits, punitive damages and independent third-party audits.

Specifically, the plaintiffs allege:
Albany Law, NY: With “Madoff-like" consistency “creates an impression of bountiful employment opportunity” for between 90 and 97 percent within nine months of graduation but in reality these numbers include “any type of employment, including jobs that have absolutely nothing to do with the legal industry, do not require a JD degree or are temporary or part-time in nature.”

Brooklyn Law, NY: Despite the astonishing 98 percent employment rate for 2005, in reality, the law school “consigns the majority of [its graduates] to years of indentured servitude, saddling them with tens of thousands of dollars in crushing, non-dischargeable debt that will take literally decades to pay off,” while employing “Enron-style” accounting techniques, based on a sample of only 40 percent of responding graduates.

Cooley Law, MI: 82 percent employed part-time. [Ed. note: Cooley ranks itself second law school in the nation (right under Harvard, but above Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, and Duke) while the most recognized ranking system, US News, has always put Cooley in the bottom tier. Last year, Cooley Law sued the now-plaintiffs' law firms and four anonymous bloggers for "trolling" the Internet in search of plaintiffs in the present class action lawsuit].

Chicago-Kent Law, IL: Despite the law school’s claim of 90-97 percent employment rate, with many graduates with “some of the largest and most prestigious firms in the country,” the real employment rate could be well below 50 percent. Average salary information based on only 38.6 percent of responding graduates.

DePaul Law, IL: Despite claiming employment rate comparable to top US law schools, the number of jobs for which law degree is required or preferred could be well below 50 percent. Top 15th percentile of law student indebtedness nationwide while Dean Glenn Weissenberger earned $371,295/year.

Hofstra Law, NY: School reported 95 percent as “employed” but if jobs for which JD was not required or preferred were included in the statistics, less than 50 percent would count as truly “employed.” Average salary information based on only 30 percent of respondents. 

John Marshall Law, IL: Despite its claim of making graduates “competitive in any job market,” less than 40 percent obtain jobs for which a law degree is required or preferred.

New York Law, NY: “JD-factory” enrolling its largest class ever in 2009 at the height of the “Great Recession” while the legal industry was experiencing historic job cuts.

All of the complaints start with “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants. . .” quote by Justice Louis Brandeis. All complaints contain colorful language re Madoff- and Enron-style accounting that subjected graduates to "indentured servitude, saddling them with tens of thousands of dollars in crushing, non-dischargeable debt that will take literally decades to pay off."


The lawsuits contain multiple letters to the American Bar Association from U.S. Senators (Boxer, D-CA, Grassley, R–IA, Coburn, R-OK) taking the organization to task for failing to properly police the law school industry and urging the Department of Education to step in and investigate the law school practice of systemic failure to adequately disclose employment prospects to prospective and current students. 

Following Congressional scrutiny, the ABA issued a slap on the wrist to Pennsylvania's Villanova University School of Law for doctoring data, but no meaningful reporting changes were implemented.

President of the American Bar Association, William T. Robinson III, attempted to shift the blame to prospective law students themselves. He told Reuters in an interview last month, "It's inconceivable to me that someone with a college education, or a graduate-level education, would not know before deciding to go to law school that the economy has declined over the last several years and that the job market out there is not as opportune as it might have been five, six, seven, eight years ago." He also said that he had sold his Corvair to pay for his own first-semester tuition and books. Well, there’s your solution, future 1Ls: just sell your fancy cars!

1965 Corvair Corsa

The Lawyers

Lawyers advertised on Craigslist and apparently trolled law student online forums to find class action plaintiffs. Original class action lawyer, David Anziska, never really came on the national radar until he had announced the intent to sue the law schools last year. My research into the other law firms representing the plaintiffs did not turn up much other than some of those lawyers apparently have been licensed for many years.
The original attorneys’ websites have one or just a few nondescriptive pages, some with “GoDaddy” tags still on them. I was not able to find out whether they possess the sophistication necessary to move such a complex litigation forward. Hopefully, they will not try to save on an incredibly expensive discovery process like they did on their websites. Hopefully, they will not just settle those lawsuits quick for easy profit, considering the law schools most likely do have embarrassing data that they’d be willing to pay hush money for

Bad websites and lack of Internet exposure, however, do not necessarily mean lack of legal expertise, considering how math-averse and conservative legal profession is. Many experienced attorneys simply never got around to building legitimate Internet presence. Therefore, it is possible the plaintiffs will get the much-needed adequate legal representation.

Original law firm's one-page "InstantSite"