The push for more transparency from law schools has been more like a shove lately, with various media and organizations calling for clearer employment and salary data. But one law grad is taking it a step further: to the courts. Anna Alaburda, a 2008 graduate from the Thomas Jefferson School of Law, is the named plaintiff in a class action suit against the law school.
The suit—which seeks over $50 million in damages—alleges fraud; negligent misrepresentation; and violations of the Unfair Competition Law, False Advertising Act, and the Consumer Legal Remedies Act. Among the suit’s assertions is that Thomas Jefferson has provided “false and misleading” employment data to U.S. News & World Report for its annual law school survey. The complaint’s allegations include the following:
2. TJSL’s average student indebtedness, more than $135,000, is among the highest in the nation. And its bar passage is consistently lower than 50 percent, well below the average in California.
3. In order to attract students despite these dismal figures, TJSL has adopted a practice of misrepresenting its post-graduation employment statistics. For instance, during a deep economic recession affecting the legal industry on a widespread basis, TJSL reports that the median salary of its graduates has remained constant between 2006 and 2011 (even though the average salary of attorneys nationwide has seen a dramatic decline in recent years).
4. Moreover, TJSL misleads students by advertising post-graduation employment rates that typically exceed 70 percent, and that topped 90 percent in 2010. TJSL, though, conceals the fact that these figures include part time employment, as well as non law-related positions (i.e., a TJSL student will be considered employed after graduation if he works as a part time waiter or convenience store clerk). Prospective students are led to believe that they will be hired as full time attorneys when they graduate, even though that is frequently not the case.
According to the complaint, Ms. Alaburda—who graduated with honors—racked up over $150,000 in loans as a student at Thomas Jefferson and has not found a legal job that is better than other non-legal options. The complaint cites several media sources, including David Segal’s —the piece that got the entire legal world talking about law school transparency and featured another Thomas Jefferson Law grad—and the ABA Journal. Overall, the complaint is a summary of the conversation that has been reverberating through the legal world for months: what types of information should law schools be disclosing and are their current disclosure practices flawed and misleading?
A few portions of the complaint stood out to me as particularly interesting, and I wonder how opposing counsel and the court will address them:
• Alaburda claims to have “sent out more than 150 resumes to law firms and practicing attorneys” from which she only received one job offer, described as “less favorable than non-law related jobs that were available to her.” It is unclear if “less favorable” refers to compensation, prestige or some other factor. And it is unclear how one should measure whether one job is more favorable than another—is the worth of a job completely subjective from person to person?
• It is unclear whether Alaburda received interviews for any other legal positions—aside from the position she was offered—that didn’t result in job offers.
• Alaburda has obtained some contract attorney work. Contract work was around prior to the economic meltdown, and some attorneys make careers out of contract work. How should contract work be evaluated and categorized when it comes to legal employment?
• The complaint refers to Alaburda’s review of U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Graduate Schools” from 2003, several years prior to the economic meltdown. What is the impact of the date versus the school’s practices in reporting employment data?
What do you think of the lawsuit? Will more suits follow?
Alaburda v. Thomas Jefferson School of Law Complaint
ABA Journal Source
Law Students & Attorneys Are Angry . . . And They Should Be
Washington & Lee Law School Gets Even More Transparent
Young Lawyers Demand the Truth about Law Schools
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