Bar-Prep Conspiracy Suit Unravels in NYC

MANHATTAN (CN) – Dismissing a $50 million suit over bar-exam preparation courses, a federal judge ruled Monday that conspiracy isn’t the only explanation for Barbri’s domination of the law school market.

LLM Bar Exam brought the underlying complaint in New York last year, accusing Barbri of conspiring with 10 of America’s top law schools to thwart its business.

The crux of LLM Bar Exam’s complaint is that Barbi ripped off its proprietary business model — catering to foreign attorneys with its namesake degree, the LLM, short for master of law.

LLM Bar Exam claims that these foreign students are less prepared generally for American bar exams that graduates of JD programs.

Despite these alleged violations of the federal Copyright Act, however, U.S. District Judge Katherine Polk Failla found Monday that the company makes no claim to hold or have applied for “a copyright of any sort.”

Abbreviating the plaintiff’s name to LBE, Failla called its antitrust claims and alleged violations of federal anti-racketeering law similarly nonviable.

LBE’s attorney, Rocco Lamura of Tosolini, Lamura, Rasile & Toniutti, noted in an email that they are considering a motion for reconsideration, but “all options are on the table.”

“We disagree with the order since it does leave unanswered too many factual questions,” Lamura said.

Though LBE  complains that its marketing has been banned from Columbia, NYU, Georgetown and Harvard, as well as a half-dozen other American law schools, Failla characterized these reactions as “independent responses to common stimuli.”

“Consider the concerns that administrators at law schools across the country conveyed to LBE,” the 76-page opinion states, abbreviating the plaintiff’s name. “There were complaints about the quality of LBE’s course materials. There were concerns about LBE’s refusal to provide refunds to students. There were complaints about LBE’s business tactics, including its decision to pursue litigation against students. And there were complaints that LBE’s marketing representatives made misrepresentations to law students who were considering signing up for LBE’s courses.

“In light of these complaints,” the ruling continues, “it is unsurprising that — at different times over the span of several years — many of the New York law schools and the non-New York law schools barred LBE from marketing its courses on their campuses.”

Columbia suspended LBE in 2010 from marketing on campus for two years following allegations that LBE students had a poor bar-exam pass rate.

LBE describes disparaging remarks made against it by Barbri and by law professors and administrators at NYU and the eight other defendant schools, but Failla calls it “unclear if these disparaging remarks were in fact falsehoods.”

Attorney Lamura meanwhile emphasized that LBE had roughly a 90 percent pass rate at Columbia when it was banned. He says Failla spoke to this discrepancy in the ruling but fails to address what interest Columbia had in expelling LBE from campus.

Failla determined that LBE’s own complaint offers an explanation for its business troubles.

“Between 2010 and 2016, foreign LL.M students from coast to coast complained about the quality of LBE’s courses and the company’s business practices,” the opinion states. “When those complaints reached the administrations of the New York law schools and the non-New York law schools, academic administrators intervened. LBE, in turn, saw its tabling privileges vanish — not because of any collusion between Barbri and the ten law schools named as defendants in this case, but because of the independent (and, it appears, justified) actions of the New York law schools and the non-New York law schools.”

Failla added later that there is nothing in LBE’s first amended complaint to suggest that defendants entered into a conspiracy, nor does it “allege plausibly that any of the defendants sought to unreasonably restrain trade.”

As for LBE’s evidence that Barbri gave prepaid credit cards and gift cards to law school departments, Failla chided the company for raising these allegations at briefing rather than in its amended complaint.

Failla found LBE’s monopolization claims unavailing as well, noting the absence of any explanation by LBE how foreign LLM graduates studied for the bar before LBE was founded in 2009.

“The most logical reading of the First Amended Complaint is that they took the same bar review classes as their J.D.-holding peers,” the ruling states. “But the first amended complaint does not address this obvious overlap between the LLM Market and the JD Market.”

Brian Burgess, an attorney for Barbri with the firm Goodwin Procter, also did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Barbri was formerly owned by Thomson Reuters, which owns the Westlaw legal research system, but Leeds Equity Partners bought the company in 2011.

An earlier class action over Barbri that West paid $9.5 million to settle in 2013    

Accused the publisher conspired with Kaplan to block competition.

Barbri faced a 2005 suit as well by law students, accusing the company of cutting deals with competitors to maintain a monopoly and overcharge students to the tune of roughly $1,000 each. That case settled for $49 million in 2007.

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