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DePaul Grads Can’t Sue Over School’s Marketing

CHICAGO (CN) - DePaul University law school graduates cannot sue the school for allegedly inflating alumni employment and salary figures, an Illinois appeals court ruled.

Nine licensed attorneys who graduated with law degrees from DePaul University College of Law between 2007 and 2011 sued the school in 2012, claiming the university deceptively overstated the percentages of graduates who obtained full-time attorney positions with salaries of $70,000 or more.

The attorneys allege that they relied on DePaul's employment and salary statistics when they decided to go to law school, but they were not told that the data was based on voluntary surveys of a small fraction of graduates.

In addition, the school calculated graduates' average salary by only using full-time salary figures, excluding graduates who only found part-time work.

As a result, plaintiffs claim they "graduated with a J.D. degree from DePaul with near-term and lifetime job prospects that are, statistically, less than they would have been had they obtained a degree from a DePaul with the employment numbers DePaul claimed to have."

The plaintiffs all say they have had difficulty finding legal employment that pays them enough to pay off their hefty student loans.

They sought to recover damages as a percentage of their tuition payments, as well as additional lifetime income, which they claim they would have earned had DePaul's employment data been accurate.

However, an Illinois appeals court affirmed the dismissal of the attorneys' action last week.

"We find that plaintiffs failed to adequately plead any omission or misrepresentation by DePaul constituting a deceptive act or practice," Justice Mary Rochford said, writing for the three-justice panel. "Plaintiffs expressly acknowledged in their first-amended class action complaint that they were aware '[t]he Employment Information was based upon surveys sent to then recent DePaul graduates.' Thus, as plaintiffs admittedly were aware of the basis for the data contained in the employment information, their claims of deception regarding DePaul's failure to inform them of that basis necessarily fails."

While the information published by DePaul could have certainly been more specific, the complaint does not identify any affirmative misrepresentation by the school of its post-graduation employment statistics, according to the judgment.

And even if, "but for" DePaul's allegedly misleading information, plaintiffs would have enrolled in other law schools with better actual employment statistics, that would not be enough to win damages, given the multitude of factors that affect a lawyer's earnings over the course of a lifetime, the court said.

"At the time of plaintiffs' enrollment in DePaul, one could not foresee their subsequent academic records and practical experiences while at DePaul, the geographic areas in which they would seek employment, their efforts put into obtaining legal employment, their interview abilities, and the economic climate and overall availability of jobs during the period of their job searches, all of which would impact their job searches and salaries," Rochford said.

Even if the attorneys expected to make more money with their DePaul law degree, the school's published statistics did not consist of a promise or projection of plaintiff's future earnings, and any amount of damages plaintiffs claim is wholly speculative, the court said.

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