SAN DIEGO (CN) – In a class action, graduates of the Thomas Jefferson School of Law claim that “for more than 15 years, TJSL has churned out law school graduates, many of whom have little or no hope of working as attorneys at any point in their careers,” and they say the school lures in new meat by misrepresenting the employment and salary records of its graduates.
“TJSL’s average student indebtedness, more than $135,000, is among the highest in the nation. And its Bar passage is consistently lower than 50 percent, well below the average in California,” named plaintiff Anna Alaburda says.
The lengthy Superior Court complaint cites a Jan. 8 New York Times article which reported that 95 percent of Thomas Jefferson law school students graduate with debt, the highest debt rate in the nation.
Alaburda, who graduated from the law school in 2008 more than $150,000 in debt, says it was that article that tipped her off to Thomas Jefferson’s “fraudulent practices.” She estimates the class contains more than 2,300 members.
Alaburda says she graduated with honors and passed the California Bar Exam, but has been unable to find a full-time job as a lawyer. Some of her loans carry interest rates of more than 8 percent.
Alaburda says she sent out more than 150 resumes to law firms and got only one job offer, “which was less favorable than non law-related jobs that were available to her.” She took jobs outside the legal field, and does inconsistent, part-time work as a document reviewer for attorneys.
She adds: “On many occasions, plaintiff was informed by employers that they do not hire graduates of TJSL and that the law school’s reputation in the legal industry is well below average. Plaintiff’s experience is typical of many graduates of TJSL.”
She says she was lured to the school by its false statements that more than 80 percent of its graduates found employment within less than a year after graduation.
The complaint states: “After reviewing the 2003 edition of U.S. News & World Report ‘Best Graduate Schools,’ among others, as well as TJSL’s marketing brochures and website, she decided to enroll at TJSL. Plaintiff relied on representations made by TJSL concerning its post-graduation employment rates, including a representation made in the 2003 edition of U.S. News & World Report ‘Best Graduate Schools,’ indicating that 80.1 percent of students were ’employed nine months after graduation.’ Plaintiff reasonably interpreted these figures to mean that the vast majority of TJSL graduates would find employment as full-time attorneys.”
Alaburda says, “These false and misleading statements were made with the intent to induce the general public, including plaintiff and the class, to enroll at TJSL.”
She claims the school has been misrepresenting its employment statistics to U.S. World News & Report at least since 2003.
After citing graduates’ enormous indebtedness and problems passing the Bar exam, Alaburda says: “In order to attract students despite these dismal figures, TJSL has adopted a practice of misrepresenting its post-graduation employment statistics. For instance, during a deep economic recession affecting the legal industry on a widespread basis, TJSL reports that the median salary of its graduates has remained constant between 2006 and 2011 (even though the average salary of attorneys nationwide has seen a dramatic decline in recent years).
“Moreover, TJSL misleads students by advertising post-graduation employment rates that typically exceed 70 percent, and that topped 90 percent in 2010. TJSL, though, conceals the fact that these figures include part time employment, as well as non law-related positions (i.e., a TJSL student will be considered employed after graduation if he works as a part time waiter or convenience store clerk). Prospective students are led to believe that they will be hired as full time attorneys when they graduate, even though that is frequently not the case.” (Parentheses in complaint.)
Alaburda adds that Thomas Jefferson is not the only law school to cook its statistics. In a declining economy, “law schools nationwide have adopted the practice of inflating statistics and presenting misleading figures to U.S. News & World Report, as well as the American Bar Association (‘ABA’). Students are unaware that these statistics are false and misleading, and they frequently rely on the false statistics in deciding which law school to attend.
“The pressure to maintain or boost a given law school’s ranking in U.S. News & World Report is substantial. Indeed, ‘striving for a high U.S. News ranking consumes the bulk of the marketing budget of a vast number of schools,'” the complaint states, citing an April 30 report by David Segal in The New York Times, “Law Students Lose the Grant Game as Schools Win.”
The complaint adds: “Indeed, there have been reports of law schools: (1) hiring unemployed students around the time that the law school needs to report its employment statistics; (2) strategically shifting students from full time to part time in order to avoid reporting their grades and entrance examination scores; and (3) accepting students late in the academic year (after the law schools have reported the grades and examination scores of their incoming class). These practices are undertaken in order to manipulate the law school’s statistics and to artificially bolster the law schools’ rankings.” (Parentheses in complaint.)
Alaburda says law schools also use a bait-and-switch strategy, giving scholarships to attract students with high GPAs and entrance exam scores, and then withdrawing the scholarships after the first year.
“This trend has been recognized and frowned upon by legislators, including Senator Barbara Boxer, who recently expressed concerns that law schools ‘are not distinguishing between graduates practicing full-time from those working part-time or in non-legal fields,'” the complaint states.
Alaburda claims that Thomas Jefferson has reported inaccurate employment and median salary figures to U.S. News & World Report.
“Despite one of the worst recessions in the legal industry in recent history, TJSL’s purported median salary figures have remained nearly constant over the last five years (it is unclear at this time whether these figures are falsified or whether they are simply misleading because so few of TJSL graduates actually work in the legal industry). And enrollment has actually increased substantially despite fewer available jobs, from 580 full time students in 2007-2008 to 687 students in 2010-11,” the complaint states. (Parentheses in complaint).
Alaburda adds: “TJSL’s growth is achieved by saddling its students with debt that many will not be in a position to repay.”
She says the school broke ground on a multimillion-dollar campus in downtown San Diego in the midst of the recession, an 8-story, 305,000-square-foot building with “12 classrooms, two recording studios, a student lounge and a ‘sophisticatedly designed’ moot courtroom. TJSL broke ground on its multimillion-dollar new campus at a time when experts were cautioning students to think twice about attending law school,” the complaint states. The new campus opened in January this year.
Alaburda claims that she “and the class were, at all relevant times, ignorant of the true facts. Plaintiff and the class only discovered that TJSL had a policy and practice of misrepresenting its post-graduation employment statistics on or after January 2011, when The New York Times published an article disclosing TJSL’s fraudulent practices.”
That article, of Jan. 8, by David Segal, “reported that TJSL leads the nation’s law schools with 95 percent of students graduating with debt,” according to the complaint. Segal reported that many law school graduates end up working low-wage jobs while struggling with student loan debt.
Alaburda seeks more than $50 million in compensatory and punitive damages for the class, alleging fraud, negligent misrepresentation and violation of various California statutes. And she wants Thomas Jefferson School of Law enjoined “from continuing the unlawful conduct alleged herein.”
Alaburda is represented by Brian Procel with Miller Barondess of Los Angeles.