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Law School Strikes at Fudged Figure Claims

SAN DIEGO (CN) - A years-old case involving a former Thomas Jefferson School of Law student and the school that taught her how to sue moved forward Thursday, with the school claiming it didn't misreport graduates' employment figures.

Former Thomas Jefferson School of Law student Anna Alaburda first took the school to court in 2011, claiming the school misreported employment data of graduates - a number she says was much lower. Alaburda says that had the employment figures been properly reported, she wouldn't have gone to the school.

The American Bar Association requires accredited schools to report employment data on graduates, and the figures were published by U.S. News & World Report.

Alaburda's lawsuit, filed in San Diego Superior Court, paved the way for other similar cases across the country where law students who couldn't find a job sued their alma maters claiming the schools glossed over the dismal employment prospects for new lawyers.

Although she graduated with honors, Alaburda says she couldn't find a job after graduation and was tipped off to the school's "fraudulent practices" by a New York Times article which reported 95 percent of Thomas Jefferson's graduates are burdened with the highest student debt rate in the nation.

In 2013, San Diego Superior Court Judge Joel Pressman refused to certify Alaburda's suit as a class action. Other plaintiffs include Jill Ballard, Daniela Loomis and Nikki Nguyen.

On Thursday, Pressman heard arguments to consider a summary judgment motion filed by the law school in September.

The law school argued they did not misrepresent the data reported to U.S. News & World Report, which used employment figures from 2003. Instead, the school said the graduates bore the burden of properly reading the employment figures - which also included part-time and non-law jobs held by graduates of the school.

Alaburda and the other students offered a lengthy counter-argument, saying one of the school's former employees was directed by a superior to fudge employment data that had been self-reported by graduates. The employee reported unemployed graduates as employed and said her superior "implied it was her job to get the numbers higher," according to the students.

Their attorney Brian Procel said "a school that misrepresents the employment data compromises the value of the degree."

U.S. News and World Report changed its methodology for reporting employment statistics of law school students after the lawsuit was filed to only include those with jobs that required a law degree, Procel said.

"Now those figures match what we thought they were in the first place," Procel said.

No specific names of graduates from the reporting period were available because the files were deleted.

The school said its employee didn't believe any inaccurate data was inputted and there is nothing that points to a pattern of misreporting.

Alaburda's case is scheduled to go to trial in March 2016.

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