Two of the country’s biggest law schools were hit with class actions on Aug. 10 alleging that they fraudulently inflated post-employment graduation and salary statistics to lure prospective students.
Thomas M. Cooley Law School and New York Law School were named in separate but nearly identical complaints filed on behalf of students and graduates demanding tuition refunds and other remedies.
“The moment for law schools to be held accountable is now,” David Anziska, of counsel at New York’s Kurzon Strauss, who represents the plaintiffs, said during a conference call with reporters. “We picked Cooley and New York Law School because they seemed to be J.D. factories, but this problem is not just confined to those two schools.”
Name partner Jeffrey Kurzon added, “This is not about the quality of the education. It’s more like a false advertising claim than a products liability claim.”
Plaintiffs’s co-counsel Steven Hyder, a Monroe, Mich. solo practitioner, is a Cooley alumnus.
Cooley, which has four campuses in Michigan, is the largest law school in the country based on full- and part-time enrollment, with 4,000 students. Tuition for the 2011 academic year is $34,340, according to the school Web site.
New York Law School is also big, with nearly 2,000 full and part time students, according to U.S. News and World Report, with tuition near $50,000.
According to the suit against Cooley, which was filed in Michigan federal court, the school claims that between 75% and 80% of its graduates find employment within nine months. “However, the reality of the situation is that these seemingly robust numbers include any type of employment, including jobs that have absolutely nothing to do with the legal industry, do not require a JD degree or are temporary or part-time in nature,” the complaint alleged.
The number of graduates actually working full-time as lawyers in permanent jobs nine months after graduation “could be well below 30%, if not even lower,” according to the complaint, filed on behalf of four graduates who had difficulty finding jobs. The complaint said the plaintiffs arrived at that figure through “interviews with former students and other investigatory work.”
Salary information is misleading as well, according to the complaint, and is based on a “small, mostly self-selected subset of graduates who actually submit their salary information,” according to the complaint. “Attending Thomas Cooley and forking over nearly $100,000 in tuition payments is a terrible investment which makes little economic sense and, most likely, will never pay off.”
James Thelen, Cooley’s associate dean for legal affairs and general counsel, said in an e-mail message that the school had not yet been served with the complaint. “To the extent the lawsuit challenges our post-graduation employment and salary statistics, we stand by our reporting to the National Association for Law Placement, and any claims that prospective students or our graduates have been misled or legally harmed by our reporting are simply baseless,” he wrote.
Cooley sued Kurzon Strauss on July 14 in Michigan state court, claiming the firm defamed it in online posts advertising the class action. Thelen said that the school would continue to press its case.
As for New York Law School, the suit filed in the New York County, N.Y., Supreme Court alleged that the school claims 90% to 95% of graduates are employed after nine months, while the actual number is more like 50%.
The complaint names three plainitffs, two of whom are now employed as lawyers.
“By playing fast and loose with its employment data, NYLS creates an impression of bountiful employment opportunity that in reality does not exist,” the complaint alleged.
Dean Richard Matasar responded with a written statement, saying, “These claims are without merit and we will vigorously defend against them in court.”
During a July 26 interview with The National Law Journal, Matasar was queried about how many graduates have jobs.
“I can’t tell you the exact number, but it’s not as high as we’d like it to be,” he replied. “Most of the people who get their first job are getting it in something that’s less than what they want. “
The two schools aren’t the only ones under fire. Thomas Jefferson School of Law was sued in May by California’s Miller Barondess on behalf of an unemployed 2008 graduate who alleged the school committed fraud by misrepresenting employment statistics for recent graduates.
The American Bar Association and the National Association for Law Placement are clashing over which entity should oversee the collection and analysis of law graduates’ jobs data.
Contact Jenna Greene at firstname.lastname@example.org.