For the most part, I’ve just been happy that the lawsuit against Thomas Jefferson School of Law, over the school’s allegedly misleading employment statistics, exists. It’s not about winning or losing; it’s about raising awareness of the disingenuous way law schools go about filling up their classes.
Of course, anytime somebody says “it’s not about winning or losing,” you can best believe that person expects to lose. I’ve been operating under the assumption that Anna Alaburda, the woman suing TJSL, would get her butt kicked all over the courthouse.
But maybe I am wrong to give up hope for a victory so quickly. Karen Sloan of the National Law Journal has managed to find a couple of lawyers who believe law schools could be in big trouble…
It seems that if law schools are misleading people with their published employment statistics, false advertising might be a winnable claim:
Paul Campos, a professor at the University of Colorado School of Law who recently wrote an article for The New Republic highly critical of the law school job reporting system, agreed that law schools have opened themselves to litigation.
“I’m not an expert on consumer fraud, but I have looked at the general question of whether there is some potential for legal liability for law schools, and the answer is yes,” he said…
Law schools are likely to respond to that type of consumer fraud suit with two arguments, the first of which is that they have simply been following the American Bar Association’s reporting rules and are following the industry standard, Campos said. Second, law schools may argue that potential law students are sophisticated consumers with plenty of options.
I have a new life goal. I would like to be called as an expert witness on the question of whether or not law students are “sophisticated consumers” with “plenty of options.” If I could do that, I’d feel like Clarice Starling saving Catherine Martin from Buffalo Bill. Maybe the lambs would stop screaming.
But seriously, the consumer fraud claim might stick:
Fudging their graduate employment statistics is more than an ethical matter for law schools — it’s a legal one, according to a paper written by recent University of California, Davis School of Law graduate Joel Murray…
“By reporting false or misleading employment statistics in marketing materials and to U.S. News & World Report, law schools violate the FTC Act’s prohibitions on deceptive practices and false advertising,” Murray wrote. “Prospective law students reasonably rely upon a law school’s employment statistics to choose whether to attend a law school, and consequently, reporting false or misleading employment statistics has a material effect on law students.”
Wait, you mean misleading and manipulating your employment stats to a bunch of people who are about to go massively in debt to buy your education might be illegal? Who knew!
And here’s an even more delicious possibility for law school liability:
“Another potential source of liability under federal statute is that schools are, essentially, lying to the federal government for the purposes of getting benefits of some sort,” Campos said. “Law schools get federal subsidies, most notably in the form of federally guaranteed loans, and that could open them up to litigation.”
That would be the big dog, wouldn’t it? If the government decided that misleading employment data was a problem when it comes time to back student loans, I bet law school administrators would stop playing around with those numbers.
We’ll see if law schools start to voluntarily shape up, or if they’re going to wait until there’s a court order.
Are law schools opening themselves to deceptive-advertising claims? [National Law Journal]