Eight Years, No Job,|SoCal Law School Grad Says

     SAN DIEGO (CN) – The woman who filed a landmark lawsuit against Thomas Jefferson School of Law because she’s never been able to land a job in the legal field got teary-eyed Wednesday, recalling her upbringing and struggles to pay for school.
     Anna Alaburda was called to the witness stand by her attorney Brian Procel to recount her path to law school and the subsequent struggles she claims she’s experienced in finding full-time employment utilizing her law degree.
     The law school graduate is originally from Northern California but grew up in Connecticut.
     Alaburda fought back tears as she told the jury about being raised by a single mother who was a secretary and having to work full-time while attending New York University in order to afford college. She testified she had to take a couple of semesters off because she couldn’t afford the costs of going to school and needed to work to save up money.
     Alaburda said she graduated from NYU in 2002 and landed a job that fall at the LA County Hospital working for the University of Southern California. Three years into her job at USC, Alaburda said she did a “cost-benefit” analysis while weighing graduate school options in fields including journalism and art history before eventually settling on applying to law school.
     At the center of Alaburda’s testimony – and her claims against the school – are statistics about Thomas Jefferson published in U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Graduate Schools” – which Alaburda claims to have heavily relied on when making her decision to invest in a Thomas Jefferson degree. She purchased the 2004 edition and looked through the 2005 and 2006 editions at bookstores before deciding to attend Thomas Jefferson, Alaburda said.
     When asked by Procel if she used the school catalog as a reference, Alaburda said looking through the guides “was a constant thing I did.” The law graduate claims to have spent at least five hours pouring over the statistics reported by American Bar Association-accredited schools featured in the catalog.
     The 2004 edition Procel mainly focused his questioning on listed a high percentage of 2001 Thomas Jefferson graduates employed nine months after graduating – 80.1 percent.
     Alaburda said that the high employment figure was her top reason for choosing to go to law school there.
     “I knew it wasn’t as competitive as first- or second-tier law schools but it still had pretty decent statistics and was ABA accredited. So I thought it was a good law school to apply to,” Alaburda said.
     Thomas Jefferson attorney Michael Sullivan made frequent objections during Procel’s line of questioning, prompting Superior Court Judge Joel Pressman to interrupt Procel – firmly reminding him to stop asking Alaburda leading questions.
     Procel went on to show that the figures reported in 2005 dipped significantly but shot back up in the 2006 “Best Graduate Schools” edition. When asked what she thought about the low law employment figure sandwiched between two relatively high numbers, Alaburda told the jury she thought “maybe it was a bad year.”
     The 2006 edition of “Best Graduate Schools” came out after Alaburda was accepted to Thomas Jefferson and waitlisted at another San Diego law school, California Western.
     She said she reviewed the guide before making her final choice “just to confirm if it was still a good decision to make.”
     The 2006 edition of “Best Graduate Schools” reported 77 percent of Thomas Jefferson graduates were employed nine months after graduation.
     A $20,000-a-year scholarship awarded by the school did not come with no strings attached as previously characterized by a former Thomas Jefferson employee, Alaburda said. She had to maintain a 3.0 GPA throughout her tenure at the school and the scholarship came attached to a loan provision which stipulated if Alaburda transferred or dropped out she would have had to pay back the money the school had awarded her plus interest.
     When it came time to look for internships and work experience to round out her legal education, Alaburda said she was encouraged by Beverly Bracker, assistant dean of career services, not to seek out paid positions. Instead, Alaburda said she volunteered with the San Diego Bar Association and Lawyer’s Club and was president of the Women’s Law Association.
     Weighing her options, Alaburda chose not to attend a public-interest fair at Thomas Jefferson she said only connected students to unpaid jobs. She said she couldn’t afford to work for free and canceled interviews she had set up with professionals in the legal field.
     “I don’t have family money. I couldn’t do that,” Alaburda said.
     After graduating with honors in 2008, Alaburda went on to pass the three-day California Bar exam the first time she took the test. But despite “casting a wide net” by applying to both legal and non-legal jobs, after eight years and at least 150 job applications and resumes sent out, Alaburda still hasn’t landed a full-time job using her law degree.
     A 2011 New York Times article tipped Alaburda off to what she called “manufactured employment data” by Thomas Jefferson and other law schools. She said that was the tipping point when she decided to file suit.
     “The employment numbers were very high in a huge economic downturn and it just felt suspicious. I decided to stand up for myself and others,” Alaburda said.
     Witness testimony will continue on Thursday.

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