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.

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.

LST Calls for Dean’s Resignation and ABA Investigation

Last week we became aware of an ongoing recruiting campaign by Rutgers – Camden School of Law that targets students who were not considering law school. As a part of this campaign, Camille Andrews, Associate Dean of Enrollment, sent students an email with bold statements about the employment outcomes achieved by the class of 2011. When compared to the school’s self-published employment data, we see Dean Andrew’s statements range from misleading to plainly false. Because the statements made in this email are demonstrably deceptive and are in clear violation of ABA Standard 509, Dean Andrews should resign immediately from her administrative appointment.

There are two important layers to this story. First, Dean Andrews made unfair statements about the employment outcomes of Camden graduates. These statements exaggerate the successful outcomes of Camden graduates and attempt to influence student behavior. The realities of Camden’s placement are far different from what Dean Andrews discloses. (More on this below.)

Second, Camden has extended a special offer for people who haven’t followed the normal application process and haven’t expressed an interest in law school or legal practice. (The email recipients had taken the GMAT, not the LSAT.) The Camden Special allows the students to avoid delay and enroll this August. By portraying Camden as some down-economy safe haven that leads to status and riches, Dean Andrews is attempting to enroll the exact students who ought not to attend law school: people who have not had time to carefully weigh the pros and cons of this significant investment.

In addition to ensuring that Dean Andrews resigns, Camden must also take swift, corrective action in all cases where prospective students received emails containing these or similar false, misleading, or incomplete statements. We also call on the American Bar Association to conduct a full investigation and bring appropriate sanctions against the school for violations of the ABA Standards, especially Standard 509(a) and Interpretation 509-4. Not only is Camden an institute of higher learning, but it also serves as a gateway to the legal profession. The degree of recklessness displayed by Dean Andrews, and the Camden administration for permitting a representative to deceive potential students, cannot be tolerated. It’s the latest example of a law school having no accountability for its recruiting practices. These practices must stop.

What follows is an analysis of each unfair statement made by Dean Andrews. We can do this analysis because Camden has made the relevant employment data publicly available, though their accessibility does not excuse false, misleading, and incomplete statements that the administration should know leave readers with incorrect impressions. Each statement is itself a black eye for Rutgers — Camden School of Law, but it’s the cumulative effect of all of the statements and all of law school bad behavior that makes resignation, corrective action, and sanctions imperative.

Analysis of Statements by Dean Andrews for Rutgers – Camden School of Law

Camden Data
Click image to enlarge. Created from the data Camden provided on its website.

“[O]f those employed nine months after graduation, 90% were employed in the legal field”

This is problematic on two levels. First, it excludes non-employed graduates from the calculation to provide a false sense of success. There were 242 graduates in Camden’s 2011 graduating class. Of these, 199 were employed. Camden uses 199 as the denominator with no indication that it has excluded 17.8% of the class from the calculation. While the statement does disclose that it is “of those employed,” the number of unemployed graduates is so large that the statement requires context to avoid misrepresenting what it means. The advertised “90% of employed” actually only represents 74% of the whole class.

Second, “in the legal field” implies “as a lawyer,” yet Camden groups non-lawyers with lawyers to create the “in the legal field” category. Specifically, Camden has combined two distinct categories: jobs that require bar admission (154 grads) and jobs where the J.D. was an advantage (25 grads). The advertised “90% of employed” actually works out to 63.6% of the class in lawyer jobs, with another 10.6% in jobs where the J.D. was an advantage.

The “J.D. Advantage” category that Camden uses to boost its “in the legal field” rate includes jobs as paralegals, law school admissions officers, and a host of jobs not credibly considered “in the legal field.” A graduate falls into this category when the employer sought an individual with a J.D. (and perhaps even required a J.D.), or for which the J.D. provided a demonstrable advantage in obtaining or performing the job, but the job itself does not require bar passage, an active law license, or involve practicing law.

“[O]f those employed nine months after graduation . . . 90% were in full time positions.”

This likewise excludes non-employed graduates without indicating that 17.8% of the class has been excluded. Once again, 90% of employed actually means only 74% of the whole class.

“Our average starting salary for a 2011 graduate who enters private practice is in excess of $74,000, with many top students accepting positions with firms paying in excess of $130,000.”

There are a number of distinct problems with this statement. First, Camden does not accurately state what the average reflects. The average is “for a 2011 graduate who enters private practice and reported a salary” not “for a 2011 graduate who enters private practice.” This is not a trivial distinction. Only 46.6% of graduates in private practice reported a salary. Of those that did so, the numbers were slanted towards higher salaries at large firms. 83.3% of graduates at firms with 101 or more attorneys reported their salaries, while only 37.0% of those at smaller firms reported a salary. The low overall response rate and the bias towards higher salaries being reported mean that the average of responses is not the average “for a 2011 graduate who enters private practice.”

Second, Camden does not disclose the salary response rate. The private practice salary response rate (46.6%) indicates that private practice salaries don’t tell the whole story. The letter also does not state that only 24% of the class was in private practice. This means the “average starting salary” actually reflects the average salary for just 11.2% of the class. None of this was communicated to the recipients of Dean Andrews’ email.

Third, Camden uses the average salary figure without any statistical context. NALP, LST, and many other academics have belabored for many years about how average salaries tend to mislead more than inform. This is because reported salaries fall into a bimodal distribution. For the class of 2010 (across all law schools), there is one peak from $40,000 to $65,000, accounting for nearly half of reported salaries, and another distinct peak at $160,000. This bimodal distribution means that very few graduates make the mean salary of $84,111.

Based on the salary data Camden produces on its website, we see a similar distribution to the national picture across private practice salaries. There were 27 salaries provided; between 8 and 12 were above the $74,000 average by at least 30%; the rest were below the average, with 14 or more at least 20% below the average.

Fourth, Camden claims that many of its top students have accepted positions with firms paying “in excess of $130,000.” To be sure, “many” is ambiguous. It might reasonably mean 40% of the class, or even perhaps 20%. With the “top” qualifier, it might not even strain credibility to claim that 10% of the class constitutes “many” top students. Based on the published data, Camden knows that at most five graduates reported a salary of $130,000+, or 2.1% of the entire class. After analyzing the salary data in detail, we think just one graduate did. Whether it is one or five, “many” is far from accurate.

That said, we do know that eight graduates (or 3.3%) made at least $100,000. We also know that Camden grossly exaggerated the salary outcomes of its graduates right after exalting placement success and right before pointing out how its alumni are among the very richest of all lawyers. Of course, this is the same school that reported to U.S. News that its 2011 graduates had an average of only $27,423 in debt, even though the estimated total debt was well into the six figures for a New Jersey resident graduating in 2011 receiving no tuition discount. Fewer than a third (31.7%) of students received tuition discounts, with just 4.3% of students received more than a 50% discount on tuition.

“Rutgers is also ranked high in the nation at placing its students in prestigious federal and state clerkships.”

Like Camden, we only have the class of 2010 data to use to compare clerkship placement rankings. With federal clerkships, Camden does okay, tied for 33rd. In terms of percentage of students placed in federal clerkships, it’s as close to 16th place as it is to last (188th). Suffice it to say that this exaggeration caps off a legion of false, misleading, and incomplete information used to induce applicants who didn’t even take the LSAT.

Other Coverage

Updates to the ABA Accreditation Standards

On Saturday (3/17), the Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education, will hold an open session to discuss a variety of topics. (Agenda here.) Most importantly, the Council has an action item on Standard 509, also known as the ABA’s consumer information standard. This standard sets the baseline requirements and operating principles for law school disclosure of consumer information.

Relevant Materials:
Standard 509 Clean Copy
Standard 509 Redlined Version
Conditional Scholarship Data Worksheet
Placement Data Worksheet
Placement Data Worksheet (Questionnaire Committee)

We have submitted a memo for the Council’s consideration. In this memo, we urge the Council to adopt the proposed Standard 509 with several small changes. To view the memo, click here for a PDF or view the entire text below the fold. We expect the Council to pass the proposed Standard 509. We hope that it consider integrating some of the changes before the vote, and that the other recommendations receive due consideration when the Council finalizes the two charts and charts’ directions.

Continue reading Updates to the ABA Accreditation Standards

ABA head has little sympathy for jobless lawyers

Transcript from William Robinson’s August 2011 video on law school transparency:

In America, we have absolutely the best system of legal education anywhere in the world. We also have some of the best students in the world. And we have in this country a wonderful opportunity to practice law in a free democracy.

In the face of current economic realities, the ABA supports making financial and job information complete and transparent for students and the public. We want to assure, in working closely with our deans and dedicated faculty members, that these students get all of the needed information to make informed decisions.

We want them to be comfortable that when they take on debt they understand the terms and the dimensions and the responsibilities that go along with that debt.

ABA Files Brief in Opposition to Duncan School of Law Complaint

The ABA filed a brief today in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Tennessee in response to a complaint filed by Lincoln Memorial University Duncan School of Law.

The lawsuit claims that the ABA violated antitrust laws. “What it says is that in a nutshell, we were denied due process because we met the standards promulgated by the ABA and we didn’t receive accreditation, so what we’re seeking is fair hearing,” said Sydney A. Beckman, vice president and dean of LMU’s law school. “It also alleges antitrust violations because it appears when you deny a school that met accreditation standards, that you’re try to limit the number of law schools.”

The response states that Duncan School of Law was not in “substantial compliance” with all of the section’s Standards for Approval of Law Schools, including Standard 203 (Strategic Planning and Assessment), Standards 303(a) and (c) and Interpretation 303-3 (Academic Standards and Achievements), and Standard 501(b) and Interpretation 501-3 (Admissions and Student Services). The response also suggests that Duncan School of Law has not exhausted its right to appeal the decision by the Council of the Section of Legal Education to deny provisional accreditation.