I once knew a sales guy who was such a shucking and jiving backslapping ‘B.S.er’ that some of his customers called him “the laughing, lying one.” Most of them knew better than to take his salesman’s patter seriously. Still, I thought the description deliciously apt.
Now it turns out that in an entirely different context, that ‘laughing, lying’ moniker might also fit those B.S.-spewing law schools hungry to garner favorable ratings to continue attracting gullible student enrollees. However, in their case, the law schools’ “customers” are starting to take matters more seriously. And they aren’t laughing at saleman’s puffery.
For example, Anna Alaburda, a 2008 honors graduate of San Diego, California’s Thomas Jefferson School of Law (TJSL), is the lead plaintiff in a class action suit filed May 26, 2011 in state court against her alma mater. The Complaint, which can be accessed here seeks $50 million in compensatory damages on behalf of the class, which could number as many as 2,300.
Causes of Action.
The suit has 5 causes of action, mostly for various alleged violations of California’s Business & Professions Code § 17200 et seq, including alleged material misrepresentations and acts of concealment by TJSL. The plaintiffs deem these acts “unlawful, unfair and fraudulent business practices prohibited by UCL [California’s Unfair Competition Law].”
Additionally, Alaburda and the class contend TJSL violated the False Advertising Act by purportedly disseminating “false and misleading statements in U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Graduate Schools” publication, on its website, and in its marketing brochures.”
The Complaint further states that “These misleading statements concerned post-graduation employment statistics, among others. These false and misleading statements were made with the intent to induce the general public, including Plaintiff and the Class, to enroll at TJSL”
The fourth cause of action is for alleged violation of the Consumer Legal Remedies Act, which “prohibits unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices undertaken by any person in a transaction intended to result or which results in the sale of goods and services.” The underlying basis of the violation complains that TJSL misrepresented its post-graduation employment rates.
And the fifth and final cause of action alleges negligent misrepresentation.
The news of the class action comes courtesy of the website, Law School Transparency, “a Tennessee non-profit dedicated to encouraging and facilitating the transparent flow of law school consumer information.” Law School Transparency has a terrific recap on the dispute, which it posted on Friday, May 27, 2011. Also see Law.com‘s report at “Law school sued over ‘false’ employment statistics.”
Given the theories raised by Alaburda and the class against TJSL and the recently widely reported law schools’ fudging of graduate post-employment numbers, it’s logical to anticipate that this suit will be closely watched by the law school industry.
Will more lawsuits follow?
But more ominously, since the theories underpinning Alaburda’s Complaint could just as easily be raised against many other law schools, i.e., the inflating of post-graduation employment numbers to induce enrollment and reputation, it’s easy to foresee similar suits to follow. In her Complaint, Alaburda makes note of the recent media reports about fudged job numbers, e.g., “Is Law School a Losing Game?” – NYTimes.com Also see, “Law schools award a degree of “BS.”
However, as much as Alaburda’s case engenders a plaintiff’s lawyer’s sympathies, it appears to me that like the foreclosure defense suits brought by underwater homeowners against predatory lenders, lawsuits against law schools may not find a lot of support from regular folks still making mortgage payments and otherwise fulfilling their obligations. Regular folks, as I have found from my own conversations, put more stock in personal responsibility. And surprisingly, they’re quicker to blame the defaulting homeowners and not the predatory mortgage industry or the quick-buck realtors or the greedy Wall Street investment firms.
Buying an unaffordably overpriced law degree by cluelessly betting on a non-existent job market is analogous to deceptively financing an unaffordably overpriced home based on a ludicrous expectation that a hyper-inflated real estate market would exist in perpetuity.
No matter that law graduates have been suckered or that their anger at law school disassembling is justified. Which side has the stronger legal and especially, the moral equities? Is it the law graduates who fell down on adequate due diligence and now have buyer’s remorse? Or is it the “laughing, lying” law schools?
And since budding lawyers freshly-sprouted from law school don’t fall neatly into what my UCC Professor often explained were “the idiot consumers the law seeks to protect,” will this ultimately be a ‘you made your bed, now sleep in it‘ argument? Or as one of my favorite thinkers, Thomas Merton, more elegantly said, “In the last analysis, the individual person is responsible for living his own life and for “finding himself.” If he persists in shifting his responsibility to somebody else, he fails to find out the meaning of his own existence.”