American Bar Association / ABA, Defamation, Law Schools, Lawsuit of the Day

Cooley Law and NYLS Hit With Class Action Lawsuits

July shaped up to be a pretty good month for going after lower-ranked law schools. It isn’t even mid-August, but this month might end up even better.

Early in July, we reported that Kurzon Strauss, a small law firm based in New York, was trolling Craigslist for plaintiffs to sue Thomas M. Cooley Law School over its employment reporting practices. Cooley Law decided to strike first, suing the firm for defamation. And at about the same time, New York Law School and its dean, Richard Matasar, got ripped a new one in the New York Times.

And now, both law schools are getting sued for fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and deceptive business practices — à la Alaburda v. TJSL, the lawsuit filed back in May against Thomas Jefferson School of Law by an unhappy alumna.

Karmic revenge sure is sweet….

The lawsuits before us today are Gomez-Jimenez v. NYLS and MacDonald v. Cooley Law. What exactly are these lawsuits against Cooley Law and NYLS about? A press release from Kurzon Strauss has more information:

[T]he suits seek to ensure that law schools report accurate post-graduate employment data that allows prospective students to make an informed decision regarding whether to invest in a law degree. The suits allege that to recruit students for their programs — which cost tens-of-thousands of dollars per-year — law schools, including NYLS and Thomas Cooley, misrepresent their graduates’ employment prospects by misclassifying graduates who have only secured temporary or part-time employment as being “fully” employed, excluding graduates who do not supply information from employment surveys, and creating post-graduate “jobs programs” into which they hire their own graduates.

Jesse Strauss

Kurzon Strauss held a media conference call this afternoon, hosted by name partner Jesse Strauss (Brooklyn Law 2003) and of counsel David Anziska (University of Michigan Law 2003). Both noted that times are tougher for recent law school graduates than they’ve been in a generation or more: “Recent law school graduates are staring down bone-crushing and soul-crushing debt that they have no realistic option of ever paying off.”

Strauss noted that “something out there is distorting the market.” And the distortion is likely being caused by “law schools [that] are not accurately recording their post-graduate employment data.” Kurzon Strauss claims to have a noble goal in mind: systemic change in legal education. Their advice to law schools: “Improve, cut costs, or shut down.” (But none of this is really news to anyone who frequents the pages of Above the Law.)

Bloomberg Law stole my question (boo-hoo), asking for comment on Cooley’s defamation suit against the firm. The firm regards the lawsuit as a “pure intimidation tactic,” and it assured callers that this class action suit was not filed in retaliation. When Cooley Law decided to sue Kurzon Strauss, however, the firm “believe[d] that [they] were on to something, and it really put the wind at [their] backs.”

Strauss and Anziska stressed that these suits are more like a false advertising claim than a products liability claim. They repeated that these cases are about the adequacy of disclosure, not about the quality of the education the plaintiffs received at Cooley Law and NYLS. Which brings me to my next point…

Recall that when it was time to defend Cooley’s honor, the school opted to go with lawyers who did not receive their legal education at the second-best law school in the nation.

Apparently Kurzon Strauss has more faith in Cooley Law graduates than the school does, because the firm retained Steven Hyder, a 2006 Cooley grad, as local counsel on the case. This is a slap in the face, for sure, but we don’t know which party will be left with the angry red mark.

Can a Cooley grad handle a case of this magnitude? We’ll have to wait and see, but maybe next time Kurzon Strauss will pick a different path in the Choose Your Own Adventure story of suing what they refer to as “JD factories.”

Our friends at Law School Transparency have been providing extensive coverage of these class action lawsuits. And having read LST’s white paper, I noticed that Kurzon Strauss yoinked a lot of language directly from it. It would be pretty cool to see if some of those terms will stick in court.

While both lawsuits contain some rather damning accusations, it should be noted that they both tend to focus on portraying prospective law students as “naïve, relatively unsophiscicated consumers.” Elie referred to these prospective law students in more realistic terms: special little snowflakes who can go to poorly ranked law schools and still succeed (even though the majority of their classmates will fail).

Are we placing too much blame on these law schools? Should the students who bought into their alleged lies take a little bit of the fall?

In the end, someone needs to be held accountable — be it law students, law schools, or the ABA — and according to Kurzon Strauss, “the moment to hold them accountable is now.”

Breaking: Class action suits filed against Cooley and NYLS [Law School Transparency]
Class Actions as a Tool of Social Change [Law School Transparency]
Class Actions Filed Against Cooley, NYLS Over Fraudulent Placement Data [TaxProf Blog]
New York Law School Sued by Students Over Claims About Graduates’ Success [Bloomberg]
Read the lawsuit: Cooley Law School sued for alleged misleading employment statistics [Detroit Free Press]

Earlier: Thomas Cooley Sues A Law Firm And Four ‘John Does’ On the Internet
The Times ‘Unearths’ The Law School Scam, But Still Can’t Explain It
Suing Law Schools Potpourri: Tidings From Law Schools Named After A ‘Thomas’

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