Complaint Filed With ABA Against Rutgers — Camden

On Monday, LST will file a complaint with the ABA Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar against Rutgers — Camden over a recruiting email sent earlier this year. You can view the complaint here.

We allege that Rutgers School of Law – Camden violated Standard 509 and Interpretation 509-4. A law school administrator made misleading statements about the successes of the school’s graduates. The same administrator also made a false statement about graduate salary outcomes when she asserted that many top graduates accepted jobs at firms making in excess of $130,000, when in fact zero graduates reported earning more than $130,000.

Timeline of Events

May 18, 2012. Above the Law story on email from Dean Camille Andrews to prospective students.

May 20, 2012. LST called for the resignation of Dean Andrews

May 22, 2012. Insider Higher Ed published a story with a response from the dean of Rutgers – Camden, Rayman Solomon.

May 22, 2012. LST responds to Dean Solomon.

Late May. Dean Solomon commissions a report by three senior faculty members to be delivered to LST.

June 8, 2012. LST receives the faculty report from Rutgers — Camden.

June 11, 2012. LST does an open records request and eventually obtains records that confirm the faculty report and that the original email contained false statements in addition to misleading statements.

Table of Contents for Complaint

I. Misleading and False Statements
A. Employment Data
B. Responses by Rutgers – Camden to LST Allegations
C. Analysis
II. Aggravating Factors
III. Mitigating Factors
IV. Conclusion

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

LST’s Statement to the Standards Review Committee

Today, one of LST’s advisory board members will read a statement on behalf of LST at the ABA Section of Legal Education’s Standards Review Committee meeting. The new chair, Dean Lewis from St. Louis University School of Law (Dean Emeritus), provided the following open invitation to those interested in law school accreditation standards.

The Standards Review Committee of the ABA Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar is holding its first meeting of the academic year on November 11-12, 2011, at the Ritz Carlton Chicago. I am the new chair of the Committee; along with six additional new members, I will be joining seven continuing members of the Committee.

On Friday, November 11, the Committee will hold an open forum from 9:15 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Open Forum will provide the members of the Committee an opportunity to hear personally from those organizations and individuals who have an interest in the work of the Committee as it continues the comprehensive review of the Standards of Accreditation.

The majority of the time allotted for the forum will be assigned to invited organizations. Other interested individuals and entities are invited to speak during the last hour of the forum and will be allotted five minutes during this final hour on a first come basis.

The Committee will listen to interested constituents on Friday, as indicated. On Saturday the Committee will review and discuss the current work product. No action on any substantive matters will be taken at this November meeting.

We thank the committee for the opportunity to lend a consumer-oriented voice to accreditation reform. We hope that the committee takes seriously the need to help reduce the cost of obtaining a legal education.

LST’s Statement

I am here today on behalf of Law School Transparency to emphasize the need for the Section to assert its role in reforming legal education while keeping in mind the two consumers of legal education: students and employers.

Since its founding in 2009, Law School Transparency has lent a consumer-oriented voice to reforming law schools. LST has investigated how law schools portray the job stats of their graduates, how the Section of Legal Education regulates this law school behavior, and why miscues in resolving these problems may indicate that continued, outside pressure for consumer-oriented reforms will be necessary.

Much of LST’s time is spent advocating not just for measures that require schools to stop misleading prospective law students, but for measures that can enable prospectives to make informed decisions about whether and where to attend law school. The proposal by Dean Yellen’s subcommittee is a step in the right direction. It is critical that the committee approve their proposal. And it’s vital that schools post comparable, up-to-date information on their websites. Publishing information in the Official Guide is not enough.

This committee must also recognize that the 509 subcommittee’s work will not be finished if and when the Council finally approves the new Standard 509. While the changes will do much to stop schools from actively misleading prospectives, it will not help them understand which schools best meet their individual career objectives. This committee can and should be doing more than just making information available for public consumption, particularly if it wishes to minimize the impact of third parties like U.S. News. Without helping on this front, prospective students will continue disproportionally relying on the U.S. News rankings as their go-to for sorting different programs. Besides this very useful goal of reducing the impact of the rankings, even if only a little, law schools and the Section have a special obligation as educators. This is not just about doing the bare minimum; it is about improving students’ educational experiences, as well as the experience of those who use their services after law school.

These obligations extend to the committee’s review of all accreditation standards.

Consumers have limited knowledge about what a sound legal education consists of. This is why we need consumer protection in the first place. Relatedly, it’s the educators who do know the ins and outs of legal education. You engage every day with students, and have the opportunity to learn about education in a way that those who simply go through it do not. Those of you who volunteer to work within the Section of Legal Education have an even better understanding of how things work, and an even stronger interest in protecting students.

It has become apparent that legal education has gotten away from legal educators in some respects. There are almost 200 schools vying to be Harvard-like think tanks. Tuition prices are tied to a distorted market rate loosely based on a school’s U.S. News ranking and geographic location. Does anyone expect that this pricing model, which relies on student loans and dwindling credibility, will survive public scrutiny? Congressional scrutiny?

Many member schools have taken advantage of a lenient Standard 509 in maintaining their race to imitate those at the top. It has become imperative for each school’s admissions office to dress up the employment prospects in order to compete in recruiting top students. But is the Harvard deluxe model for everyone? At some point, as more and more graduates question their own ability to practice law upon graduation and more clients refuse to pay for their services, we must question the current model. This means inquiring as to whether the accreditation standards can be changed to allow other models to emerge.

A chief concern must be how to ensure that the cost of obtaining a legal education can be reduced. It is wrong for schools to ask what students are willing to pay when setting prices. Consider the tuition and graduate debt from the school you teach at or graduated from, and how quickly those numbers grew over the last 25 years. It should be clear that for too long, cost considerations have been absent from reform discussions. The cost of a legal education in the United States is obscene, and its effects are felt well beyond the individuals who choose to debt-finance their education.

The law school cost structure will receive continued attention in the coming days, weeks, and months. The buzz among faculty and administrators will be about what subtle changes can be made to reduce costs. Reducing costs to any great extent will seem insurmountable. That’s because subtle changes are not the answer.

The profession needs radical change to the law school cost structure. We must be asking how to get ourselves out of this mess. If the answers do not come quickly from legal educators, the result will be that educators end up forfeiting their right to control the changes. And if the answers have to come from elsewhere, unbreaking the broken law school model will be as painful as it is necessary.

A few specific areas need to be addressed immediately. First, Dean Lewis should create a subcommittee to review regulatory barriers preventing law schools from adapting low-cost models. It is problematic—and there are people here today who agree—that organizations like AALS are fighting so hard, as the cost of educating new lawyers lurches skyward, to require tenure for ABA-approval. Some schools are finding ways to increase value and better prepare graduates by relying on more adjuncts and fewer tenured professors; such adaptive models should be encouraged by the standards, not restricted. Other standards and interpretations also serve to make cost reductions more difficult. When the time comes, LST and I’m sure others will be happy to point out the standards that create the toughest barriers.

Finally, the Section must do a better job at policing its members if it wants to stay relevant in the discussion. This means having standards in place that are tough enough to permit sanctions and embolden the accreditation committee to be more assertive. When ABA-approved law schools start getting sued for alleged fraud and violations of state consumer protection laws, the value of “ABA-approved” has less meaning. If schools are not investigated and properly sanctioned by the Section of Legal Education, then the bad apples will make all member schools look worse by association. As of now only a handful of schools are facing class actions, but many more will come in the coming months. The more often ABA-approved schools get slapped with lawsuits, the less it means anything to actually be ABA-approved. It is a promise of quality, and the Section must be taking greater steps to protect consumers, which necessarily means being tougher on how its members recruit those consumers.

Above all, it is important not to compromise the values of the Section of Legal Education in the name of appeasing stakeholders who argue on behalf of themselves, rather than their consumers. When setting policy and creating new standards, we hope committee members distance themselves as much as possible from the dual roles many of them play as deans, professors, or counsel to institutions of higher education. Part of this means seeking members of the profession who can assist the committee in redefining what a ‘quality legal education’ entails. Ultimately if the current Section committee members are not up for the challenge, the responsibilities of shaping legal education will need to be placed somewhere else.

In closing, we hope you will take LST’s comments to heart, and that you will ask yourselves the questions we have posed before you this afternoon. Thank you.

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.”

Potential admissions data fraud at Illinois


Paul Pless

The Chicago Tribune reported over the weekend that an admissions dean at University of Illinois College of Law has been put on leave pending the outcome of an investigation into the fraudulent reporting of admissions data on the Illinois website. While the data does not appear to have been submitted to the ABA Section of Legal Education, this would still violate Standard 509 because it covers all basic consumer information, not just information submitted to the Section.

Above the Law reports that the investigation will be conducted by Theodore Chung of Jones Day. NonTradLaw reports that the dean is Paul Pless. Confirming this suspicion, Mr. Pless’s profile has disappeared from the Illinois website.

According to Charles Cooper from NonTradLaw:

We need law schools, we need new lawyers, but we don’t need vast numbers of uninformed, indebted, and unhappy law grads. And inflated stats, to some extent, draw in applicants who have no place in law school. This has to stop, at this point, it’s got to stop sooner rather than later.

He is, of course, correct. We expect this to reignite the discussion about auditing all consumer data. While the task will be very difficult and costly for employment data, admissions data would be extremely cheap to audit if the Law School Admissions Council were to cooperate. All ABA-approved law schools are members. Representatives of LSAC have said that LSAC is not interested in auditing admissions data, despite presently having the capabilities to do so.

TJSL Representative Speaks Out About Class Action Suit

Despite news of Alaburda v. Thomas Jefferson School of Law breaking the day before the holiday weekend, the legal community has been abuzz about what the first class action suit filed against a law school for misleading consumer information means for TJSL, prospective law students, and the legal profession. This post looks at some of the responses thus far.

Many commenters have been debating the merits of this suit and whether the class will be certified. Others are wondering whether more lawsuits will follow in other states against other schools. And many commenters suggest that the ABA and/or U.S. News should be joined as defendants. Social media traffic to our website alone was substantial, suggesting that members of the legal profession are very interested in the case and may continue watching it closely.

Comments from the Parties

Ms. Alaburda’s attorney, Brian Procel, had this to say to Sara Randazzo when she first broke the story at the Daily Journal (subscription required):

This lawsuit is about ensuring that law schools are held to the same standard as other businesses and that they are not permitted to misrepresent information.

Ms. Randazzo also reports that:

Beth Kransberger, associate dean of student affairs at Thomas Jefferson, said the school has always “reported honestly and with integrity” when providing data to various agencies, including the American Bar Association and the National Association for Law Placement.

Ms. Kransberger then added:

A law degree remains an amazingly versatile degree, and that continues to be what drives us.

Ms. Kransberger made additional comments to Karen Sloan in the National Law Journal:

The school has always followed the guidelines established by the ABA. We’ve always been accurate in what we report, and we’ve always followed the system given to us by the ABA.

This lawsuit is very much about a larger debate. This is part of the debate about whether it’s practical to pursue a graduate degree in these difficult economic times.

The Reality of TJSL’s Comments

Ms. Kransberger’s comments about the ABA Section of Legal Education are not surprising, as they will represent a crucial part of TJSL’s substantive legal argument. In particular, the law school hopes to show that it has acted properly by responding truthfully to the ABA questionnaire and NALP survey each year.

This conflates two separate acts by TJSL: reporting and presenting employment data. Although false reporting would be problematic for TJSL for each cause of action, as they focus on misrepresentations, acts of concealment, and misleading statements, TJSL could have reported true data to the ABA, NALP, and U.S. News and Ms. Alaburda would not be precluded from recovering under any of the actions.

As we have continuously emphasized, the issue is how law schools present consumer information to the public, not only what they report to the ABA, NALP, and U.S. News. (Although truthful reporting may be an issue at some schools, especially in light of the Villanova Law scandal, many, many more law schools mislead prospective students, intentionally or unintentionally, with how they choose to present consumer information.)

Law schools deserve the brunt of the blame for the current lack of quality employment information, including the provision of misleading information, even though the ABA Section of Legal Education has a responsibility to regulate under its accreditation authority. It is worth noting, however, that the Section only has to act because schools do not voluntarily release the information prospective students need to make an informed investment. The responsibilities of law schools to prospectives and the profession are not absolved or delayed because the Section regulates law schools; nor does it matter that the Section is considering more careful regulations. The failure of the Section to monitor whether schools are behaving legally is an argument against the Section, not in favor of a particular law school.

These responsibilities are confirmed by Standard 509, the ABA’s (minimum) consumer information standard. Standard 509 is just one of the Section’s standards that law schools must meet to obtain and retain ABA approval. Compliance with this standard in particular is at the core of Ms. Kransberger’s claim that “[TJSL] has always followed the guidelines established by the ABA.”

Standard 509: Basic Consumer Information
(a) A law school shall publish basic consumer information. The information shall be published in a fair and accurate manner reflective of actual practice.

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.

In addition to the Interpretation above, Interpretation 509-1 provides a list of what information is considered “basic.” Concerning employment information, only the “any job at all” employment rate and bar passage statistics are included in the list, leaving it up to the interpreter to determine whether the list is exhaustive or whether other basic employment information must also be reported in a fair and accurate manner. We think it does. Under Standard 509, for example, it is not explicitly stated that a law school must fairly and accurately report the number of graduates employed in a fulltime legal job. However, it would be absurd to think a law school can unfairly and inaccurately report the number of graduates employed in legal jobs should the school volunteer that information. It is in part due to the inadequacy of this list that we have pushed for a revision of Standard 509.

Grounding a defense against misrepresentation by pointing out that a school complies with an ineffective standard should fail, particularly if the school is arguably not even in compliance. If a law school is aware that the information it shares does not adequately explain its post-graduation outcomes and is aware that the information misleads consumers, the law school is open to an investigation and potential sanctions by the Accreditation Committee. The fact that no sanctions have yet been issued is only a sign that the ABA hasn’t received any complaints, which hardly makes TJSL unique. In an email response to LST last month, Consultant Bucky Askew informed us that during his tenure as Consultant to the Accreditation Committee (since December 2005) there has not been a single complaint filed against any law school alleging violations of Standard 509. You can read more about the complaint process and how to file a complaint against your law school here

Perhaps most telling is that even the ABA doesn’t seem to think that TJSL’s tactics are in compliance. The Subcommittee on Standard 509, charged with improving Standard 509, also asserts that the kind of behavior that TJSL engages in is in fact misleading. According to the subcommittee, “a school that touts median salary information, without appropriate qualifiers, is misleading prospective students.”