Class Action Suit Against Thomas Jefferson School of Law Now in Discovery

We’ve been keeping tabs on the three pending lawsuits against ABA-approved law schools over fraudulent presentation of employment statistics. These cases set the stage for additional class actions against the other 194 ABA-approved law schools, given that the allegedly misleading actions have been the industry norm for quite some time.

The first of the three class actions, Alaburda v. TJSL, was filed last May in California Superior Court. In addition to alleging that Thomas Jefferson School of Law committed fraud, the plaintiff’s claims of unfair competition and false advertising have been allowed to move forward. While the plaintiff has yet to file for class certification (her attorney expects to do so in six to twelve months), the case has entered into the discovery phase. In the meantime, the lawyers have set up a class action registry for graduates of TJSL. (Link here.)

We inquired for a status update with the lead attorney on the case, Brian Procel of Miller Barondess LLP. Below is his full response.

Good to hear from you. I am very pleased with the progress of our case and recent developments with respect to the disclosure of employment data among law schools.

Thomas Jefferson answered Plaintiff’s complaint on September 23, 2011. We have now stated class action claims for fraud, unfair competition and false advertising. The parties are currently engaged in discovery, including the exchange of documents and other information. We intend to start taking the depositions of the administrators at Thomas Jefferson who were involved in compiling the employment data that was ultimately reported by U.S News & World Report. Thomas Jefferson will send out notice of the class action to all graduates in the near future.

We set up a website, thomasjeffersonclassaction.com. We invite all graduates to register on the website. This will allow us to communicate with the class members and to answer any question they may have directly. By signing up on the website, graduates can also input information that will help us to evaluate whether Thomas Jefferson has been reporting their employment data accurately.

I would like to thank you and your team at lawschooltransparency.com. You are doing great work and we are now starting to see some positive results.

Note to TJSL graduates: Please contact the firm directly using the instructions on the registry if you wish to join the class. LST is not affiliated with this or any lawsuit.

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.”