Playing fast and loose with the law school admissions rules comes with long-term consequences, apparently.
Former Villanova University School of Law Dean Mark Alan Sargent and former University of Illinois College of Law assistant dean for admissions Paul Pless both have been disciplined for their roles in admission scandals.
Sargent on July 22 began a three-year suspension imposed by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court for violating that state’s professional rules against engaging in “conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation” and “any other conduct that adversely reflects on his or her fitness to practice law.”
Pless in March was reprimanded by the disciplinary board of the Washington State Bar Association for engaging in fraud or deceit and for failing to adequately supervise a non-lawyer.
The disciplinary actions came to light this week when University of Missouri School of Law professor Ben Trachtenberg commented about them on the Legal Ethics Blog. Earlier, Trachtenberg argued in an article that some law school administrators had exposed themselves to disciplinary action by disseminating false information about graduates’ employment prospects.
“My article identified these two by name as the worst actors, so I’m not surprised to see that they have been the subjects of disciplinary action,” Trachtenberg said.
It wasn’t the false reporting of job statistics that landed Sargent and Pless in hot water, however. Both men were involved in schemes to inflate the LSAT scores and grade-point averages of incoming students their schools reported to the American Bar Association and U.S. News & World Report. The deceptions were intended to bolster their schools’ rankings. Sargent stepped down as Villanova dean in 2009; the inflated numbers came to light in 2011 and Villanova was subsequently censured by the ABA.
The problems with Illinois’ data were revealed in August 2011 and an investigation placed the blame squarely on Pless, who had resigned when the allegations first surfaced. The ABA censured the law school and fined it $250,000.
Trachtenberg argued in his article that law school administrators who mess with their numbers are at particular risk of running afoul of the state equivalents of Rule 8.4 in the ABA’s model rules of professional conduct. Both Pless and Sargent were found to have violated that rule.
It remains to be seen whether these disciplinary actions would much affect the way law schools report their statistics, Trachtenberg said. Some administrators likely will view Pless and Sargent as isolated cases. Others might see the disciplinary actions as ground to increase oversight of the reporting process, he said. The ABA has hired a consulting firm to develop an auditing process for the numbers reported by law schools, but that system won’t be in place until 2014.
“We’re still relying on the reporting of the law schools staffs, which I think for the most part is good,” he said. “But as we know, not everyone tells the truth all of the time.”