Case Update: Amended Alaburda Complaint Includes New Allegation

With the recent joint announcement by Law Offices of Dave Anziska and Strauss Law PLLC that the firms have drafted complaints against 15 ABA-approved law schools and intend to file them as class actions, we thought it would be a good idea to revisit the first class action against a law school for misleading employment information. We reached out to the lead attorney handling Alaburda v. TJSL, Brian Procel of Miller Barondess, LLP, for an update on where things stand.

The most recent Amended Complaint (available below), filed September 15th, 2011, contains a new allegation (our emphasis):

5. Furthermore, TJSL also misleads students by concealing the fact that these post-graduate employment figures are based on a small sample of graduating students rather than the entire class of graduates. Specifically, TJSL conceals the fact that its statistics are based on surveys and questionnaires that are sent to only a fraction of its graduates. Not all graduates receive surveys or questionnaires.

If discovery reveals the bolded to be true, the school may have more to worry about than the Alaburda complaint.

Risk of ABA Sanctions?

Many schools have defended the gaps in their employment information by stating that graduates simply don’t respond to their requests, and that nothing the school does can get graduates to voluntarily report more and better data. This conclusion is suspect, given that graduates are less likely to report when they feel let down by the school. A high non-response rate should raise eyebrows about the quality of a school’s services. But purposely not contacting certain graduates, if substantiated, may constitute a violation of the ABA’s Accreditation Standards. This would make TJSL subject to probation or even a loss of accreditation.

Such sanctioning could happen irrespective of whether Alaburda’s attorneys are successful in recovering under one or more claims. As weak as the ABA’s current accreditation standards are, law schools must publish “basic consumer information . . . in a fair and accurate manner reflective of actual practice.” What constitutes “basic consumer information” has in the past been restricted only, in practice, to the overall employment rate and bar passage data. (This means that schools could technically present any other employment information, e.g. salary statistics, in an inaccurate manner without risking its accreditation.)

But a pattern of failing to survey some graduates looks like it would constitute a violation of the standards, particularly if the behavior was motivated by a belief that the unsurveyed graduates are likely to report undesirable outcomes. Schools are all over the ethical map in terms of how to creatively count or massage the data graduates report to them, but an outright failure to even contact some graduates should not be ignored by the ABA.

Current Students Suing?

Otherwise, Alaburda’s lead attorney is “optimistic the class will be certified” given that “the alleged misrepresentations are uniform.” Keep in mind, the class includes not only recent graduates but also current law students. Much of the attention in the media has focused on how graduates are bringing claims against their alma maters, but both the TJSL complaint and the complaints against Cooley and New York Law School contemplate including current students. At least one of the draft complaints to be filed against the 15 additional law schools also lists current law students as eventual members of the class. This could make for an interesting development if any of the classes are certified. Current students would continue to pay tuition while simultaneously waiting to see if they can recover for the initial fraudulent acts that got them into the school.

Note: as with the two other firms handling claims against law schools, Mr. Procel reports that they “have received dozens of inquiries from graduates of other law schools who are interested in filing suit.”

3 thoughts on “Case Update: Amended Alaburda Complaint Includes New Allegation”

  1. The “unrepresentative sample size” angle is a good one, but I must confess that I assumed it to be a rudimentary complaint(s). More importantly, this is where USNWR should take some heat.

    It publishes yearly rankings that induce students to apply to certain law schools based on a falsely established hierarchy: namely one that is 40% dependent on a “reputational survey” that no doubt is sent to a small sample of industry experts who rate schools they know little or nothing about.

    As consumers, students are unaware of this and spend thousands of dollars on applications – significantly informed by information provided in the rankings. The suspicious rankings have allowed schools to make anywhere from $200-$750K per year on applications alone (50-90% of which will be rejected, depending on the school(s)).

    USNWR also profits with magazine sales, as its rankings issues are its biggest selling every year. As a consumer, I think it is only right that USNWR (1) reveals a report disclosing exactly how many surveys USNWR sends out per year, and (2) to whom they send them – complete with names, titles, biographical info, and up-to-date contact information for verification. This would ensure georgraphical consistency and quell fears of east coast bias.

    USNWR should (3) reveal the completion and response rates. It should (4) disclose whether or not the questionaires encourage raters to abstain from rating schools they know little or nothing about, and (5) report scoring raters’ adherence to the instruction. USNWR should (6) issue a breakdown of the relevant metrics that lead to the overall reputation scores. The ABA should (7) be required to blindly audit a large sample of random surveys, and then (8) re-audit them in-camera – publishing a yearly report. The information should be shared with legal and corporate employers, the schools, government employers and officials, and consumers via mailings and on a specially constructed website maintained by the ABA.

    Something tells me that USNWR has also falsified the information, and may even be in cahoots with the elite law schools to keep them at the top.

    It isn’t just the law schools committing the fraud; everybody is getting a piece of the action, inlcuding the ABA, the LSAC, the other ranking systems, the test prep companies, etc. Even legal employers are implicitly relying on the schools to do their sorting by engaging in a rankings system that places too much emphasis on what is likely false data, as well as standardized test scores.

    Elimination of the LSAT requirement may be a good thing for a decade. The test can be re-constructed into better form, while schools concentrate on improving the education they provide. Moreover, it would force USNWR and other rankings systems to create more fair, sensible and verifiable rankings metrics.

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