Defamation, Free Speech, Law Schools

Thomas Cooley Sues A Law Firm And Four ‘John Does’ On the Internet

Cooley President Don LeDuc

Earlier this month, we reported that somebody was looking to Craigslist for potential plaintiffs to sue Thomas M. Cooley Law School over the school’s published post-graduate employment statistics. As many of you know, Thomas Jefferson School of Law has already been hit with such a lawsuit.

Well, apparently Cooley isn’t going to sit around and wait for somebody to sue them. Instead, the school is going to sue first.

A message from Cooley president Don LeDuc informed students that Cooley is suing a New York law firm and four anonymous “John Doe” commentators on the internet. We haven’t seen the lawsuit, so we don’t know exactly who the school is suing. According to LeDuc, Cooley is not trying to “police the internet.” Instead he says the school is trying to defend its reputation and the value of a Cooley Law degree.

You can read his full letter to students below….


To: Students
From: President LeDuc
Re: Litigation
Date: July 14, 2011

Cooley filed two lawsuits in Ingham County today.

The first lawsuit is against a small New York law firm. Our suit contends that the firm has defamed us and tortiously interfered with our student relationships, and that the firm and two of its lawyers have been unethically soliciting former and present Cooley students to join in a class action lawsuit against us. At our insistence, the firm previously retracted blatantly false online statements about Cooley, but only days later the firm moved their focus to Craigslist and Facebook, where they began circulating a draft complaint filled with more false and damaging statements about Cooley.

The second lawsuit is against four John Doe defendants. As with the law firm defendants, we contend the Doe defendants are defaming Cooley online and tortiously interfering with our student relationships through a series of false, damaging, and often vulgar statements in Internet blogs and comments to those blogs and other sites.

Two main falsities run through the defendants’ online statements.

First, the bloggers state that Cooley is engaged in student loan fraud and stealing tuition money. They say we are secretly employed as bankers, not professors, who are engaged in the fraudulent sale of student loans. We are called criminals and said to be under investigation by two federal agencies.

Second, the law firm defendants falsely state that we are fraudulently hiding a preposterous 41% student loan default rate and fraudulently reporting and misrepresenting our post-graduation employment and salary numbers, misleading students into attending law school.

The actual facts are as follows.

Default rates — Student loan default rates are calculated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Default Prevention and Management Office. We are not involved in their calculation. Cooley’s most recent default rate was 2.2%. While the rate is slightly higher than in the previous four years, it is the same as it was in 2001, and is lower than our default rate in the mid-to-late 1990s, during the last recession. The most recent national average default rate was 7.0%.

The past five years Cooley had overall default rates of 1.5%, 0.8%, 0.8%, 0.7%, and 2.2%. The rates for Cooley graduates during the same years were 0.6%, 0.1%, 0.1%, 0.1%, and 0.6%. As you can see from above, even at the most recent 2.2%, Cooley’s default rate is very low compared to the national default rate.

The defaulters are predominantly students who did not graduate. In the past five years, only 16 graduates entered into default. The other 55 defaulters in that time did not graduate, and are likely to have lower student loan debt totals in default. Not all of our students have loans, but of the current graduates who do, the average indebtedness is approximately $105,000.

The defendants’ statements about manipulation of students to obtain loans, selling loans, or having employees who are really bankers are just bizarre. We have never been investigated regarding irregularities in our loan program by any governmental agency.

Employment data — We have reported our employment data exactly as required by the American Bar Association and the National Association for Law Placement.

The reported figure we use publicly is the number that the ABA publishes in its Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools. We are required to submit this information in a specific format that includes the number and percentage of graduates employed among those whose status is known. In the 2011 Official Guide, Cooley’s reported employment rate was 78.8%.

We have never manipulated the data or attempted to mislead anyone. No school I know of, Cooley included, makes any promise or commitment about jobs for graduates, other than to say it provides placement counseling and assistance to graduates seeking to get jobs. And, of course, all who pass the bar are equipped with the necessary skills to begin a solo practice, in which they may work as lawyers if they are willing to make the effort required to be successful. In that sense, law students graduate with the means to begin working for themselves almost immediately — something that cannot be said for most other professions.

The entire conversation about employment in the law and legal occupations is almost entirely wrong:

1. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the unemployment rate among lawyers in 2010 was 1.5%, for those in all legal occupations it was 2.7%, and for all occupations it was 9.6%, which drops to 8.9% when those who have never been in the labor market or are returning from military service are excluded.

2. The 2.7% unemployment rate for legal occupations, including lawyers, was better than the rate for all other occupations in the BLS category of management, professional, and related occupations except for health care practitioners and technician occupations (2.5%). This data shows that becoming a lawyer is a better choice for those considering a career, not a worse choice.

3. According to the National Association of Law Placement (NALP), the preliminary unemployment rate for the 2010 graduates of the 192 ABA-approved law schools that reported data to NALP was 6.2%, about the same as it was in 2002.

4. Cooley’s unemployment rate for 2010 was 17.05%, slightly higher than it was in 2002. Like the national rate, Cooley’s rate fell during the decade until the recession, when it bumped up. This reflects unemployment among the graduating class in 2010 and includes those who did not pass the bar on the first try and those who did not attempt a bar examination.


While it would not be appropriate for me to publicly discuss our entire legal strategy, rest assured that we have given much consideration to these actions, and our Board has agreed that legal action is necessary to protect and defend the school’s reputation and the value of your degree. We could have done nothing, but then we risk being sued by the defendant law firm, and the media would then report only the false and defamatory hyperbole stated in the draft complaint that the firm has been circulating on Facebook and advertising on Craigslist.

We are not suing anyone for expressing a negative opinion about Cooley online, and we are not attempting to police the Internet. We believe these particular defendants have crossed the line both legally and ethically, calling us criminals who deceive our students and steal their tuition money, and ascribing to us fraudulent student loan activities and default rates that, if true, would cause either the Department of Education or Department of Justice to shut us down immediately.

In short, we’ve determined that we need to protect Cooley’s reputation and stand up for our students and more than 15,000 graduates. And we continue to look at ways to counter the negative comments with positive comments about us, including online.

From time to time, we will post updates about the litigation on the Portal. Thanks for your support.

Earlier: Suing Law Schools Potpourri: Tidings From Law Schools Named After A ‘Thomas’

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