Saturday, May 28, 2011

The shiTTT finally hits the fan

Anna AlaburdaThomas Jefferson School of Law, exemplar of fourth-tier shitholes, has been hit with a 50-million-dollar class action lawsuit by an alumna alleging intentional fraud. Reaction from the damned has been vindication over what most of them saw as inevitable.

Anna Alaburda, pictured, graduated with honors from TJ, owes $150K, and has never found full-time legal work. Her undergrad degree is from NYU.

She is suing on behalf of herself and other individuals who were students at TJSL. There are potentially more than 2,300 members in the Class.

The Complaint itself reads like a contemporary, well-researched, articulated, and documented scamblog post, replete with citations to unfavorable news coverage. Indeed, in some places it's a little too breezy. Some choice excerpts:
"For more than 15 years, TJSL has churned out law school graduates (my emphasis)"

"In order to attract students despite these dismal figures, TJSL has adopted a practice of misrepresenting its post-graduation employment statistics."

"At the end of the day, TJSL is more concerned with raking in millions of dollars in tuition and fees than educating and training its students."

"In order to attract larger numbers of prospective students, law schools nationwide have adopted the practice of inflating statistics and presenting misleading figures to U.S. News & World Report, as well as the American Bar Association ("ABA"). Students are unaware that these statistics are false and misleading, and they frequently rely on the false statistics in deciding which law school to attend."

"Law schools are also believed to be manipulating post-graduation employment statistics, as well as median salary information for their graduates."

"This method has been described as a "bait and swtich [sic]" as to prospective law students."

"What should students expect in exchange for the hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt they incur in student loans in order to receive a diploma from TJSL? In 2007, TJSL's bar passage was 35.6 percent, among the lowest in the country; and the most recent figures reveal that TJSL's passage rate remains under 50 percent, well below the state average."

"TJSL's average student indebtedness in 2010-2011 was $137,352, which is among the highest in the nation...."

"On information and belief, TJSL provides false and inaccurate information directly to U.S. News & World Report with the understanding that the false and inaccurate information will be disseminated to the public."

"In other words, if graduates accept part time employment working as a waiter or a clerk at a convenience store, they are considered to be "employed nine months after graduation."
There are five counts.
  1. Violation of Business & Professions Code §17200 et seq. - Unfair Competition Law ("UCL") for unfair and fraudulent business practices
  2. Violation of Business & Professions Code §17500 et seq. - False Advertising Act
  3. Fraud - engag(ing) in a pattern and practice of knowingly and intentionally making numerous false representations of material fact, and material omissions, with the intent to deceive and/or induce reliance
  4. Violation of the Consumer Legal Remedies Act - misrepresentation of post-graduation employment rates
  5. Negligent misrepresentation - making material representations and omissions with no reasonable grounds for believing them to be true
I'm not familiar with California law. My layman's opinion is that unless they find something damning during discovery -- and they well might -- this suit isn't going anywhere. A school's usual defense is that it took tuition money in exchange for a legal education, which the plaintiff received; it made no guarantees; and, it's complying with ABA requirements. Further, much of the Complaint refers to US Snooze despite the school having no control over its editorial content.

One aspect of the Complaint I found fascinating is the reference to the faculty and staff being members of the California bar and implying they breached their ethical responsibilities. I think this would be a fertile second front to open up in California and other states: File ethics complaints against law school administrators.


  1. I, too, am a bit skeptical about this resulting in a big verdict/settlement/etc.(in addition to the problem you pointed out, reliance will be tricky to prove), but the fact that it was filed (and not be a pro se nut) is a big win, to me.

    The one problem with going to the state bar is that a lot of law school professors aren't actually members of the bar. I've had at least four professors that I know of who moved states to teach and never bothered joining, so I'm not sure if the state associations have any authority over the teachers individually.

  2. I don't think getting jurisdiction would be a problem; it's usually administered by the state Supreme Court. The worst that could happen is it would be referred to a state where the administrator/professor is barred.

    The thing about ethics complaints, from what I've heard from those who've faced them, is they're harrowing. Even if you win, you lose.

    It's one more way to hold their feet to the fire.

  3. This will never go anywhere. It will end up in some black hole for the next 5 years. If they work anything like we do in corp.

  4. I hope that it sticks; if we could get rid of places like TJSoL the legal profession could begin to reform itself by at least removing the large number of half-trained JDs.

  5. Too many people attend gutter law schools expecting a Top 100 firm to open its doors and hand out $160k checks.

    I wouldn't go to DeVry and expect to be hired by NASA.

  6. I am a 2009 graduate of TJSL and I think this lawsuit is ridiculous. I agree with most of your comments in that I didn't graduate with unreasonable expectation. I knew there were no promises made other than to get an education. I passed the CA bar on the first try and knew that I would get a job due to being well connected not the name on my diploma. I got two job offers right after passing the bar in 2010 and most if not all my friends are in good jobs. A year later I am in great 100K year job, but I realize that is not common for TJSL grads. I feel sad for both TJSL and Anna. I feel she is a bit delusional and TJSL is under attack for this.

  7. I think the writer is both wrong and disengenuous when he states that the schools have a ready defense: that the students received what they paid education as opposed to some type of guarantee of jobs.

    While there's no disputing that schools could not "promise" jobs for any students, they can promise access to them.

    Just as a college basketball coach cannot promise any recruit that he will make All-American, he can promise that the team will play on television a certain number of times per year, which would be an acceptable way of relating to the recruit, exposure...the opportunity to be seen. Law students from certain schools are not being seen, and they are paying to be seen.

    It is a question of "access" to law firm interviews, externships, clerkships, etc. And many schools are clearly misleading students insofar as those components go.

    First, students DO NOT pay tuition strictly for an education; they pay for an education that will lead to employment. If any of these educators thought otherwise, they would never publish employment statistics, not only via USNWR but in their own brochures!

    Secondly, if they do not intend to disseminate employment information and other data to consumers, why participate in rankings that are, for all intents and purposes, optional?

    Regardless of what they say, law school administrators, deans, faculty, etc. are employing the USNWR as a marketing tool, and effectively using that tool entails selling consumers on the ability of the school to provide the foundation to a viable career, if not a great one.

    Ask the deans how many students they believe would apply to their schools if no employment data were published. My guess is that they know most students would not bother applying, just as if, with some schools, poor employment data were being published.

    When the deans signed a letter, a decade or more ago, denouncing the rankings, they should have petitioned the ABA to forbid ALL accredited law schools from submitting data to the USNWR. Because the schools and the ABA failed to take that next step of banning participation in the rankings - out of their own selfish greed and a belief that they wouldn't be left at the bottom - the pandoras box was opened...a genie released.

    The arms race began: schools "buying" the students with the highest GPA's and LSAT scores, as well as poaching eminent faculty, in hopes of rising towards the top of the rankings while pulling in the most money with which to feed their respective colleges and universities, and build state-of-the-art facilities...thereby continuing the cycle.

    The schools are thus committing fraud in order to "support their (fraudulent) habit", for lack of a better phrase.

  8. To some other posters, there's a big difference - and a fair middle-ground - between $160K per year BigLaw jobs and jobs that barely pay $15-35K per year.

    TJSL implies that "80%" of its graduates are employed after nine months. Would this lawsuit even exist if just 40% of its graduates were employed as lawyers making $70,000 per year on average? Not likely. But the school's actual statistics are so far out of line with the published claims, and the history and pattern of misrepresentation so deeply entrenched, that the behavior rises to the level of fraud committed in the housing bubble. This goes for all of the schools, even Harvard, Yale and Stanford. Yes, I believe they've been lying as well, mostly to outdo each other.

    Hence, the woman who instituted this lawsuit isn't delusional or crazy, or using the schools as scapegoats; she is merely calling them to task for fraudulent behavior. She wants a decent job for herself and her classmates. She believes she was duped. Despite how badly many would like to pretend otherwise, this lawsuit has legs like Carl Lewis's!

    For the hell they go through (and this is pretty much regardless of the schools they attend) virtually every law student expects and reasonably deserves "a chance", "a reasonable opportunity" to make a decent living doing something at least remotely related to law.

    TJSL students aren't even getting interviews, as is the case at schools like Golden Gate and Florida Coastal.

    Kudos to her for filing the suit. I stated as far back as 2005 that the schools needed to be sued and everyone thought I was nuts.

    1. Turns out, though, that this plaintiff did in fact find a 60K law firm job, but turned it down because they wouldn't pay her bar exam fees. Also, she admits her sole research before going to law school was the US News & World Report rankings-not the law school's own materials. (Source: this week's online ABA Journal, 2 November 2012.)

      I think "anonymous" above, who knows the plaintiff and considers her "delusional," nailed it.