Breaking: Ex-CSO assistant director from Thomas Jefferson admits to fraud, alleges deliberate scheme by law school

In a sworn statement, Karen Grant, a former career services assistant director at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, admits that she fabricated graduate employment outcomes for the class of 2006. Grant alleges that her fraud was part of a deliberate scheme by the law school’s administration to inflate its employment statistics. She also claims that her direct supervisor, Laura Weseley, former Director of Career Services, instructed her on multiple occasions to improperly record graduate employment outcomes and justified the scheme because “everybody does it” thus “it is no big deal.” TJSL could face sanctions from the American Bar Association as severe as losing accreditation.

Grant was Assistant Director of Career Services at TJSL from September 2006 to September 2007, during which she was tasked with tracking and recording employment outcomes of recent graduates. Grant is a licensed California attorney and made her sworn declaration on August 2, 2012 in connection to the class action lawsuit filed by Anna Alaburda, et al. against TJSL in 2011. (Complaint; Original Story.) Grant’s statement was filed in court last week in connection to Alaburda’s motion for sanctions.

Specifically, Grant admits that she “routinely recorded currently unemployed students as ‘employed’ if they had been employed at any time since graduation,” which is a violation of both ABA and NALP reporting guidelines. Graduates should only be recorded as employed if they are employed as of February Exhibit B, A handwritten note by Karen Grant from a meeting with Laura Weseley on Oct. 16, 2006. 15 following graduation.

Grant’s admitted actions likely mean that TJSL violated ABA Standard 509 and Interpretation 509-3. Possible sanctions under Rule 16 for violating Standard 509 include monetary penalty, censure, probation, and losing accreditation.

Paul Campos, professor of law at the University of Colorado Law School, says that “the ABA ought to be pursuing an investigation vigorously.” He continued, “if the ABA is at all serious about transparency, they will have to crack down on this.” The ABA is preparing its public comments, which will be available shortly. (Update: see below for ABA comments.)

In addition to her own admission, Grant alleges that Weseley, her then-boss, instructed her to misrecord graduate employment outcomes and justified the actions based on a belief that such practices were widespread throughout the legal education community. From Ms. Grant’s testimony (emphasis added):

4. … I was instructed to “probe” graduates because “they may say no,” meaning that graduates may indicate they were currently unemployed and I therefore needed to ask whether they had been employed any time prior to graduation.

5. … Ms. Weseley instructed me to “update ERSS prior to Feb if [unemployed] & become [employed] but not vice-versa.” … I expressed my concern at the time that it did not seem right to update graduates’ employment data only if the graduate became employed, but not if they became unemployed.

Grant continues by explaining her data recording process and Weseley’s alleged influence on it:

6. Ms. Weseley later reiterated that, when talking to students, I was to first ask if they were currently employed. If the graduate indicated he or she was not currently employed, I would then inquire whether he or she was employed at any time after graduation. If the graduate indicated he or she was employed at any time after graduation (even though currently unemployed), I was instructed to record the graduate as “employed” in TJSL’s Excel software.

7. I again expressed my concern and told Ms. Weseley that it not seem right to report currently unemployed students as “employed” merely because they had been employed at some point after graduation. Ms. Weseley responded by saying “it is no big deal, everybody does it.”

8. I followed Ms. Weseley’s instructions. I routinely recorded currently unemployed students as “employed” if they had been employed at any time since graduation. As a result, the employment data that I entered into the Excel files included currently unemployed students who were inaccurately categorized as “employed.”

It is the nature of the process that schools do not follow up with certain graduates before submitting data to NALP by the end of February. Schools begin collecting post-graduation job outcome data shortly before graduation and continue through the February 15 reporting deadline. Once a school knows that a graduate has a job, career services staffers will often cease follow-ups because they believe their time is better spent elsewhere.

However, Grant alleges that the accepted practice in the TJSL career services office, at least during her tenure, went beyond cherry picking which students to follow up with. She alleges that she participated in a scheme that guaranteed that TJSL’s employment stats would be better than the reality by affirmatively ignoring new, true, and proper outcomes of graduates whose jobs were terminated or ran their course before the reporting deadline. Grant admits that TJSL submitted false information to NALP, U.S. News, and the American Bar Association as a result of her counting as employed at nine-months any student who was employed at any time after graduation regardless of whether they had a job at that time.

A look at the statistics TJSL reported to the ABA for the class of 2006 confirms that the numbers from Grant’s spreadsheet, Exhibit D of her declaration, were submitted to the ABA. These numbers were not submitted to the ABA until after her termination in September 2007.

In an email to LST, Rudy Hasl, dean of Thomas Jefferson School of Law, questioned Grant’s reliability, disputing the accuracy of her sworn testimony and her motivations. “The law school stands behind the accuracy of the data that we submitted to the American Bar Association.” Sources report that Grant was terminated in 2007, though when asked for clarification, Dean Hasl would not comment on internal personnel matters beyond suggesting that LST “do a due diligence analysis … including the reasons for her departure from the School of Law.”

Grant’s admission marks the first on-the-record account of a law school administrator falsifying employment data. It remains to be seen whether she was a rogue employee, or whether there was a deliberate scheme by the law school to inflate the appearance of its employment outcomes. Nevertheless, her allegations of a culture within American legal education where fraudulent reporting is a legitimate strategy are sure to reignite concerns about the quality of data that schools report, how schools present data to the public, and whether the current level of public investment in legal education is appropriate in light of this culture.

UPDATE: Comment from ABA

The ABA Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar is fully committed to ensuring that law schools comply with the letter and spirit of the Standards for Approval of Law Schools and all reporting requirements. We take seriously our responsibilities for collecting and disseminating law school data, including employment data.

The actions of a few schools have called into question the integrity of all. As a consequence, the Section has been called upon to play a greater role in investigating possible non-compliance with our rules and in sanctioning non-complying schools. We regularly follow up on reports and other communications regarding possible non-compliance with the Standards that come to our attention.

Under our rules, all matters concerning the accreditation of an individual school must be confidential. Thus, we cannot comment on the matter that is now being reported. Given the confidentiality requirement, no one should assume that a matter has not been, or is not being, addressed.

Last year, in an effort to increase clarity, accuracy and accountability in the reporting of employment data, the Section began requiring law schools to report employment data directly to the Section; in the past, schools reported this information to NALP. We have established detailed definitions and instructions for the reporting of employment data. The Section is fully committed to the clarity and accuracy of law school placement data. By vigorously enforcing the Standard that requires fair and accurate reporting of consumer information, and by having law schools report more comprehensive, specific consumer information, as a result, those students who choose to enter law school will be better informed about the prospects for employment than ever before.

UPDATE: Context of Court Filing

LST received a copy of the evidence as it was filed last Thursday by Anna Alaburda’s attorneys. It was filed in connection to her latest motion, a motion for sanctions.

ABA House of Delegates Approves Standard 509 and Rule 16

Comment from LST’s executive director, Kyle McEntee:

Approval of the improved Standard 509 and Rule 16 represent an important step for law school transparency. I hope that the ABA vigorously pursues violations of Standard 509 and exacts serious, swift punishment on law schools that continue to seek unfair advantages over peer schools and prospective students. To date, no school has been punished for a violation of Standard 509, and it should be impossible for this continue.

Our work is not finished. The Interpretations need additional fine-tuning and the standard form schools will use pursuant to Standard 509(e) has significant flaws. We look forward to working with the Council to make those improvements in the coming months and years.

You can view the resolution here.

LST Requests Class of 2011 NALP Reports

Following our success in collecting NALP reports from schools last year, we are asking schools to now make their reports for the class of 2011 available.

For the class of 2010, we managed to collect 50 NALP reports. These reports helped us expand our data clearinghouse so that we could become the place to go for the most thorough and easy-to-compare employment information. This year, our goal is to double the number of reports we collect.

Even with the improvements to law school transparency, thanks to immense pressure on the ABA, these reports contain helpful data that schools are not required to be make public.

  • Salary Data (aggregated in categories)
  • Job Source (e.g., OCI, networking, direct mailings)
  • Job Offer Timing (before graduation, before bar results, after bar results)
  • Job Status (employed graduates who are still seeking or not seeking)
  • Job Region and Job States
  • Job Type Breakdowns by Employer Type (e.g., government JD Advantage)

Check out Seattle University School of Law’s Class of 2011 NALP report, which the school sent to us unprompted, to see what schools have to offer this year.

We hope that schools share our sense of urgency and help us put comparable employment information into the hands of consumers. Check out the full letter after the jump.

Continue reading LST Requests Class of 2011 NALP Reports

Update to 2011 Clearinghouse

We were alerted a few minutes ago that we transposed the data for Indiana University — Bloomington (Maurer) and for Indiana University — Indianapolis (McKinney). We’ve updated the clearinghouse accordingly.

As always, we seek to remedy mistakes as quickly as possible. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you even suspect there’s been a mistake.

Class of 2011 legal employment and underemployment numbers are in, and far worse than expected

LST’s Press Release:

Mister Hart, here is a dime. Take it, call your mother, and tell her there is serious doubt about you ever becoming a lawyer.
– Kingsfield, The Paper Chase

The ABA has released Class of 2011 job outcome data for all domestic ABA-approved law schools. The data are far more granular than ever before. Law School Transparency has analyzed the data and made the school-specific data available on its website for easy comparison.

The ABA data shed considerable light on how poorly the 2011 graduates fared. We can now say with certainty that the employment picture is far worse than previously reported. Only 55.2% of all graduates were known to be employed in full-time, long-term legal jobs. A devastating 26.4% of all graduates were underemployed.

According to the ABA data from 195 law schools:

Full-time, Long-Term Legal Jobs:

  • These jobs require bar passage or are judicial clerkships and are for at least 35 hours per week and have an expected duration of at least one year.
  • The national full-time, long-term legal rate is 55.2%.
  • At 73 law schools (37.1%), less than 50% of graduates had these legal jobs.
    • 30 schools (15.2%) had less than 40%
    • 10 schools (5.1%) had less than a 33%
  • 89 schools (45.2%) exceeded the national rate of 55.2%.
    • 31 schools (15.7%) had more than 67%
    • 19 schools (9.6%) had more than 75%
    • 5 schools (2.5%) had more than 90%

Underemployed:

  • We define a graduate as underemployed when he or she is “Unemployed – Seeking”, pursuing an additional advanced degree, in a non-professional job, or employed in a short-term or part-time job.
  • The national underemployment rate is 26.4%.
  • 180 schools (91.4%) reported a rate greater than 10%.
    • 144 schools (73.1%) had more than 20%
    • 109 schools (55.3%) had more than 25%
    • 57 schools (28.9%) had more than 33%
    • 20 schools (10.2%) had more than 40%

Large Firms (at least 101 attorneys):

  • 10.7% of graduates were employed at large firms in full-time, long-term positions
    • Graduates seek these jobs in part because they’re the jobs that tend to pay the highest salaries.
  • At only 45 schools (22.8%) were more than 10% in these jobs.
    • 20 schools (10.2%) had more than 20%
    • 15 schools (5.6%) had more than 33%
    • Only 3 schools were over 50% – Columbia, Northwestern, and Penn.

Law School Transparency’s executive director, Kyle McEntee, urged caution to students planning to enroll this fall. McEntee said, “Law school still costs way too much money compared to post-graduation employment outcomes. If you plan to debt-finance your education or use your hard-earned savings, seriously think twice about attending a law school without a steep discount. For the vast majority of prospective law students who have not received an extensive scholarship, it will make sense to wait for prices to drop.”

There has been some speculation that the class of 2011 may represent the bottom, though this view is grounded more in optimism than evidence. Rather, evidence points to a structural shift in legal employment, especially at the entry-level, that signals a new normal far below pre-recession levels. Technology, globalization, and law firm strategies are substantially changing our profession.

To view every ABA-approved law school’s profile, visit http://www.lawschooltransparency.com/clearinghouse/.

To view comparison charts, visit http://www.lawschooltransparency.com/clearinghouse/?show=compare&sub=jobs

Established in 2009, Law School Transparency is a nonprofit legal education policy organization. Our mission is to improve consumer information and to usher in consumer-oriented reforms to the current law school model. We operate independently of any legal institutions, legal employers, or academic reports related to the legal market.

Rutgers – Camden School of Law’s Dean Stands by Marketing Campaign

This weekend we wrote about a recruitment letter sent by Rutgers – Camden School of Law’s admissions dean, Camille Andrews. We alleged that the letter contained incomplete, deceptive, and false information, and that as a result Dean Andrews should resign from her post and the ABA should conduct an investigation and bring appropriate sanctions against the law school.

In an article published in Inside Higher Ed, Camden’s Dean Rayman Solomon responded. Neither Dean Solomon nor Dean Andrews responded to us directly, and we have only the portions of Dean Solomon’s statements published by Inside Higher Ed:

Dean Rayman Solomon is standing by Andrews. Solomon said the recruitment material was accurate but that he’s “open to discussion” about the best way to reach prospective students going forward. The promotion in question targeted potential applicants who took the GMAT, not the LSAT, the typical law school admission test. The goal, Solomon said, was to reach a new audience and introduce the Rutgers-Camden program. Students could then go online to get more information.

“This was one letter saying are you interested, have you thought about it?” Solomon said. “This is not our entire marketing campaign. This is telling people that we have a program.”

But were the numbers misleading?

“I don’t know how to respond,” Solomon said. “If you have a hundred people, would four of them be misled? Would one be misled? Would 98 be misled? [It was] a piece that was designed to get people to think about something they hadn’t thought about. This wasn’t the only information they could get about it.”

We appear to agree with Dean Solomon on the purpose. The May 2012 letter was designed to get students to think about law school or a legal career who were not known to be interested in attending law school starting in August 2012. We bet we also agree on the following three points:

  • Camden waived the application fee to reduce the application barrier
  • Camden discussed employment outcomes to show its placement successes in a bad economy
  • Camden discussed salary outcomes and salary potential to inform the cost-benefit analysis of the campaign targets

However, we clearly disagree about whether Camden’s employment outcome claims adequately reflect reality and whether targeting people who had not yet expressed interest in law school was appropriate given the very short decision window and lack of knowledge about their professional goals.

Nevertheless, neither LST nor Camden knows the actual effect of the campaign on the letter recipients. Frankly it doesn’t matter whether many people or zero people enroll. We care about how Camden conducts itself in the law school marketplace; Camden unfairly used employment statistics to augment its argument that the law school is a safe haven from a bad economy. In this regard Camden crossed the ethical (and likely legal) line from mere puffery to deceptive advertising. These facts are troubling irrespective of whether prospective students are sophisticated, unsophisticated, or indifferent.

The brunt of Dean Solomon’s response is that this is but a single letter that isn’t a big deal and shouldn’t affect decision making. To that we ask, what could the employment statistics have been meant to do other than affect application and enrollment decisions? The letter was part of a recruitment campaign, not a teaser for a movie due out next summer. Camden should strive to have all of its communications with students be accurate and honest. Dean Solomon further states that the misinformation is okay because other information is out there. It would appear that he is saying “you should know not to take our statements at face value.” That’d be a pitiful position for a law school dean to take.

It’s not acceptable to provide prospective students with false and misleading information just because the truth is available somewhere else. Interpretation 509-4 to ABA Standard 509 clearly states that reporting consumer information accurately somewhere does not absolve a school’s responsibility to present such information in a fair and accurate manner elsewhere.

Interpretation 509-4
Standard 509 requires a law school fairly and accurately to report basic consumer information whenever and wherever that information is reported or published. A law school’s participation in the Council-designated publication referred to in Interpretation 509-2 and its provision of fair and accurate information for that book does not excuse a school from the obligation to report fairly and accurately all basic consumer information published in other places or for other purposes.

It’s worthwhile to emphasize that Dean Solomon disputed our analysis and not our numbers. He also said he is open to discussion. So are we, and we’ve sent him the following email:

We would like to know what specifically in our analysis you believe is incorrect.

1. Does the category “JD Advantage” include only jobs in the legal field?
2. If #1 is no, did any Camden graduates have a “JD Advantage” job not in the legal field? If so, how many?
3. Do you think the advertised private practice starting salary of $74,000 represents the average of all 2011 graduates employed in private practice?
4. How many graduates reported earning salaries of at least $130,000?
5. Do you believe the answer to #4 can fairly be described as “many”?
6. Are statements about employed graduates meaningful without disclosing how many non-employed graduates there are?

Please respond via email. If you do not have adequate information to answer any of these questions, please say so. In addition to the email, we would be happy to schedule a time to talk about the data, our analysis, Camden’s forthcoming remedial measures, and the internal policies Camden plans to adopt to prevent repeat violations of ABA Standard 509.

We reemphasize that the letter must stand on its own merits. This letter was intended to create a first impression with prospective students and paint in their minds a picture of financial security if they attend law school at Rutgers – Camden School of Law. Later discovering that the letter was deceptive does not erase the deception.

We will post a new story if/when Dean Solomon responds.