The debate over the accuracy of law school graduate employment statistics — or lack thereof — has moved into court.
A 2008 graduate of the Thomas Jefferson School of Law filed a class action in California state court on May 26, alleging that the school committed fraud by misrepresenting the employment statistics for its recent graduates.
“For more than 15 years, TJSL has churned out graduates, many of whom have little or no hope of working as attorneys at any point in their careers,” the complaint reads.
According to the complaint, plaintiff Anna Alaburda graduated with honors from the San Diego law school in 2008 and passed the California bar examination, but has been unable to secure full-time employment as an attorney. She sent more than 150 resumes to law firms and received only one job offer that was “less favorable than non-law related jobs that were available to her.”
Alaburda has been working as a document reviewer on a project-by-project basis. She accrued more than $150,000 in student loans during her law school years, the complaint says.
Alaburda was lured to the school by statistics reported by U.S. News & World Report in 2003 indicating that 80% of its graduates were employed after nine months. She “reasonably interpreted these figures to mean that the vast majority of TJLS graduates would find employment as full time attorneys.”
“The foregoing statistics were false, misleading, and intentionally designed to deceive all who read them,” it reads.
In fact, the figures included all recent graduates who were in part-time jobs or non-legal jobs, which is how law schools calculate their “employed after nine months” figures for the American Bar Association and U.S. News, the complaint reads.
Law School Transparency, a nonprofit organization formed in 2010 to advocate for more accuracy and detail in law school employment data, examined the job employment information posted on Thomas Jefferson’s Web site and concluded that it is far less detailed than it could be. The Web site says that 85% of the class of 2009 was employed after nine months of graduation — and that the 58% who went to law firms earned an average salary of $62,433. However, the school collected information from only 86% of its 2009 graduates, meaning that slightly fewer than 73% of the class of 2009 were known to be employed, the organization concluded.
Additionally, Law School Transparency calculated that few graduates working full time in the private sector reported their salaries.
Alaburda’s suit is notable in part because it challenges the legality of a practice that is nearly universal for law schools: that of combining all graduates with jobs into one job statistic, regardless of the nature of their employment.
Alaburda’s attorney, Brian Procel of Los Angeles firm Miller Barondess, declined to comment on Friday.
Beth Kransberger, associate dean for student affairs at Thomas Jefferson, said that the school does not misrepresent its employment statistics.
“The school has always followed the guidelines established by the ABA. We’ve always been accurate in what we report, and we’ve always followed the system given to us by the ABA,” Kransberger said. “This lawsuit is very much about a larger debate. This is part of the debate about whether it’s practical to pursue a graduate degree in these difficult economic times.”
The lawsuit cites correspondence from U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer to ABA President Stephen Zack pushing for more complete disclosure by law schools; allegations in news reports that law schools cook their employment numbers to improve their U.S. News rankings; and the recent decline in employment opportunities and salaries for lawyers.
The complaint estimates that there are upwards of 2,300 potential members of the class, based on the number of students who attended the school during the statutory period. It alleges fraud and violations of California’s Unfair Competition Law, False Advertising Act and the Consumer Legal Remedies Act.
The suit claims that compensatory damages to the class exceed $50 million.
Contact Karen Sloan at email@example.com.