A long-running class-action lawsuit accusing one of the country’s worst law schools of fraud has finally been cleared to go to trial, potentially setting up a catastrophic blow against schools that charge hefty tuition rates for low-value degrees.
Thomas Jefferson School of Law (TJSL), located in San Diego, is frequently listed in the lowest tier of America’s legal academies. Matriculating students have a median LSAT score of just 148, its bar passage rate is only about 46 percent, and nine months after graduation, almost 40 percent of its graduates are unemployed. Despite this grim outlook, the school still charges $42,000 in tuition per year, meaning the typical graduate leaves school with over $100,000 of debt.
Anna Alaburda accuses the school of grossly distorting the employment prospects of graduates to lure in unsuspecting applicants in the class action lawsuit. Alaburda graduated with honors all the way back in 2008 with $150,000 in debt, and filed her lawsuit in 2011 after failing to get a legal job.
Now, after over four years of legal wrangling, Alaburda has won a major victory, as a California state judge rejected the school’s motion for summary judgment, paving the way for a trial next May.
Alaburda, who has attracted several co-plaintiffs for her class-action suit, cites several pieces of evidence to bolster her claims about TJSL’s dishonesty and deception. She says the school bolsters its employment rate by counting students employed as waiters and other non-legal positions.
She also accuses it of fudging its salary data, pointing out that the school’s median salary for graduates remained constant from 2006 to 2011, even though the legal industry contracted massively during that period. Alaburda’s case is bolstered by a former TJSL employee, who has admitted to manipulating data about graduates.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs told the legal blog Above the Law they also have evidence TJSL counted students as “employed” as long as they were employed even once since graduation (even if they were currently jobless), and reported statistics differently based on whether the information would be public.
In his ruling, Judge Joel Pressman makes several declarations that should have TJSL extremely nervous about the upcoming trial. For example, he said it would be absolutely deceptive for TJSL to count non-legal jobs in its employments statistics.
“A reasonable consumer would not believe employment figures included any and all employment, which would render the figure meaningless in the context of a legal education,” he said. “A reasonable consumer expects the employment figure to include graduates who work in law-related jobs.
TJSL is one of many law schools that have come under fire for their high costs and awful job outcomes. Nationally, only about 70 percent of law school graduates have law-related jobs ten months after graduation, yet every year schools continue to pump out far more graduates than there are jobs. And although salaries have stagnated, tuition rates keep rising. Many, including legal academics, have gone so far as to call law school a “scam.”
The lawsuit isn’t the first one to go after law schools for deceptive practices, but it is the first one to proceed to trial. A finding against TJSL could pave the way for many law schools to pay out millions in damages to current and former students. Such a finding could even cause some law schools to shut down, as several including TJSL are in tough financial situations. (RELATED: Cooley Law School Becomes First Casualty Of Law School Crisis)
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