Rankings Pressure as a Motivating Force for Fraud

The Chicago Tribune has picked up on part of the University of Illinois College of Law’s audit report that many readers lament as par for the course. While it’s unknown just how common intentional fraud is at U.S. law schools, the pressure is common among law schools to improve U.S. News rankings. It is easy to see why it sometimes translates to bad behavior.

College of Law admissions dean Paul Pless revealed another motive was at play [in starting its new admissions program]. By admitting high-achieving students in their junior years, without a law school entrance exam, the students’ high GPAs would be included in the class profile but no test scores could potentially drag down the class.

As the former dean’s own words explain:

“That way, I can trap about 20 of the little bastards with high GPA’s that count and no LSAT score to count against my median. It is quite ingenious,” Pless boasted in a 2008 e-mail exchange with an acquaintance about iLEAP, the early admissions program now in its fourth year.

Schools often admit “splitters”—high GPA/low LSAT or high LSAT/low GPA—to achieve higher and higher median scores. Admissions offices are restrained by the need to report the low LSAT or GPA along with the high LSAT or GPA because each low number drags down the median. Pless’s iLEAP program is a way to get credit for the best quality of the splitters (their high GPAs) without the LSAT median sinking downwards.

A review of the investigative file shows the intense culture in which Pless worked, one focused on improving the academic credentials of the incoming classes in part as a means to improving the already well-regarded school’s ranking.

The college’s strategic plans and annual reports focused on that ranking. Pless’ salary increases were tied to it. The law dean and other top officials exchanged emails about the benefits of different combinations of test scores and GPA medians to achieve it.

While most law school administrators wouldn’t so brazenly (and sloppily – professional email communications at a public school are usually subject to open records laws) brag about the novel ways they’ve boosted medians, they all have their bag of tricks. They all know that job security is often tied to maintaining or improving those numbers.

The same pressures exist for improving employment statistics too, though far less is known about intentional changes to underlying employment data. While it’s difficult to spin poor admissions numbers without resorting to fraud, it is far easier to use misleading tactics to dress up the unimpressive reality facing most law school graduates in today’s job market. This is particularly true when the entity charged with policing law schools, the Section of Legal Education, has failed to actively investigate what admissions and career services offices are doing.

It’s odd, to put it lightly, that these pressures exist in the first place. Serious thought needs to be given to the institutional incentives that law schools face, particularly when those incentives seem to run against the interest consumers have in receiving information that’s presented in a fair and accurate manner.

As of now, there are few if any incentives to blow the whistle on unethical admissions practices. It is likely that unethical practices have spread beyond Villanova and Illinois, but they are difficult to catch. These practices would not even be uncovered at the semi-decade inquiries from the ABA site visit teams—an important event for ABA accreditation.

It seems that we may have moved beyond the presumption that all law schools are operating ethically. It’s crucial, for the sake of the schools acting ethically as the gateway to the legal profession, that the bad apples be uncovered. We hope the schools with nothing to hide step up and ask LSAC to audit the past ten years of admissions data at all ABA-approved law schools. The costs of conducting such an audit will pay dividends of restored credibility.

Update: Exhibits for Class Action Press Call

Documents are attached below. In addition read LST’s statement here.

Breaking: 15 more ABA-approved law schools to be sued

Two law firms, Law Offices of David Anziska and Strauss Law PLLC, have announced their intention to jointly file class action lawsuits against 15 more U.S. law schools (full press release below). The law schools are located in seven states:

  • California: California Western School of Law, Southwestern Law School, and University of San Francisco School of Law (3)
  • Florida: Florida Coastal School of Law (1)
  • Illinois: Chicago-Kent College of Law, DePaul University College of Law, and John Marshall School of Law (3)
  • Maryland: University of Baltimore School of Law (1)
  • New York: Albany Law School, Brooklyn Law School, Hofstra Law School, Pace University School of Law, and St. John’s University School of Law (5)
  • Pennsylvania: Villanova University School of Law and Widener University School of Law (also has a campus in Delaware) (2)

These complaints will follow previous complaints filed against New York Law School, Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Michigan, and Thomas Jefferson School of Law in California.

With these lawsuits, nearly 10% of all ABA-approved law schools across eight states will be accused of tortiously misrepresenting job placement statistics and violating state consumer protection laws. As with the previous complaints, the relief sought will include tuition reimbursement, punitive damages, and injunctive relief such as mandatory auditing of employment data and cessation of false advertising tactics.

LST is a forward-looking organization focused on improving legal education through policy efforts, thus our interests do not adequately align with plaintiffs seeking to be made whole. As such, we will not be directly involved in filing and prosecuting these lawsuits. Nevertheless, we will join these law firms on a media call this afternoon because of the role that class action lawsuits can play in incentivizing change through highly visible impact litigation. We will help put these lawsuits in context for journalists unfamiliar with law school consumer information issues.

These cases will create more awareness among prospective law students that the employment statistics advertised by these law schools do not mean what prospectives tend to think they mean. It is our hope that these complaints, along with future claims made against other law schools, will help bring about broad social change by altering how law schools operate and by pressuring the ABA Section of Legal Education to fulfill its regulatory duties. In the meantime, LST will continue seeking ways to expand the debate about legal education reform and to help usher in a new approach to the recruitment and training of attorneys and judges.

Press Release

Post-Graduation Employment Rates at Fifteen Law Schools Questioned

October 5, 2011
New York, NY
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Law Offices of David Anziska and Strauss Law PLLC announced today that they are seeking to file class action complaints challenging the post-graduate employment rates reported by the following 15 schools:

1) Albany Law School, which reports rates of between 91% and 97%;
2) Brooklyn Law School, which reports rates of between 91% and 98%;
3) Hofstra Law School, which reports rates of between 94% and 97%;
4) Pace University School of Law, which reports rates of between 90% and 95%;
5) St. John’s University School of Law, which reports rates of between 88% and 96%;
6) Villanova University School of Law, which reports rates of between 93% and 98%;
7) Widener University School of Law, which reports rates of between 90% and 96%;
8) University of Baltimore School of Law, which reports rates of between 93% and 95%;
9) Florida Coastal School of Law, which reports rates of between 80% and 95%;
10) Chicago-Kent College of Law, which reports rates of between 90% and 97%
11) DePaul University School of Law, which reports rates of between 93% and 98%
12) John Marshall School of Law (Chicago), which reports rates of between 90% and 100%
13) California Western School of Law, which reports rates of between 90% and 93%;
14) Southwestern Law School, which reports rates of between 97% and 98%;
15) University of San Francisco School of Law, which reports rates of between 90% and 95% percent

The average debt load for 2009 graduates of these fifteen schools is $108,829.4. “The lawsuits against New York Law School and Thomas M. Cooley Law School are prompting many recent law school graduates with high debt loads and disappointing job prospects to question the employment rates reported by their schools” stated David Anziska. “The numbers reported by the schools just don’t comport with the reality of the legal job market. We hope that litigation, combined with pressure from regulators, applicants, students and alumni changes the way legal education is marketed and provides compensation to those who may have been mislead in the past.” he added.

Law Offices of David Anziska and Strauss Law PLLC are advising graduates of the above schools that they may have certain legal rights and should contact David Anziska at david@anziskalaw.com or visit www.anziskalaw.com to learn more.

Law Offices of David Anziska and Strauss Law PLLC will be hosting a media call to explain the current status of litigation regarding law schools’ post-graduate employment data and to address the nation-wide problem of high debt burden and low employment rates among recent graduates. Joining the firms on the call will be Kyle P. McEntee and Patrick J. Lynch from Law School Transparency, a Tennessee-based non-profit whose mission is to improve the quality and presentation of post-graduate employment data.

The Need for Auditing of Law School Admission Data

We advise all of our readers to take a look at Professor Jerry Organ’s latest piece on the need for auditing law school admission data. His concerns come in the wake of the scandal at the University of Illinois College of Law, where the school has admitted to a pattern of fraud over the last few years. Villanova admitted a similar pattern in January.

As Professor Organ explains:

[T]his behavior is problematic because it not only misleads prospective law students and others regarding the law schools in question, it also erodes the ability of law schools generally to instill in their graduates a professional identity reflecting the highest ethical standards.

Something must be done about this. We have continually reiterated that the Law School Admissions Council would be the cheapest method of ensuring accurate admissions data. 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.

A number of pre-law advisors raised this issue with the LSAC at the Pre-Law Advisors National Council Board meeting in March of this year. At that point, however, the LSAC representative expressed no interest in having the LSAC serve as an auditing check on law schools, noting that the LSAC is a membership organization and that any such action would require the consent of the member law schools. Daniel Bernstine, the President of the LSAC, recently was quoted in a National Law Journal article: “That’s just not something we have done historically, and I don’t see why we would. We are not in the reporting business. We don’t distinguish between our [law school] members.”

Despite President Bernstine’s protestations to the contrary, LSAC is in the reporting business. It reports annually the aggregated results of those who take the LSAT and jointly with the ABA publishes the ABA-LSAC Official Guide to law schools, in which the inaccurate data from Villanova and Illinois was reported for the last few years. It also issues a variety of reports to law schools and to pre-law advisors.

Professor Organ has created a survey to gain input on how to best deal with admissions data integrity. You can complete this survey here or by filling it out below.

We will report the results of the survey when Professor Organ makes them available.