The news recently has been filled with stories about law schools misrepresenting statistics, possibly to improve their rankings to compete for more and better students to come to their schools and increase their revenue.
Last week, the National Law Journal reported that New York Law School was the second school to be sued for fraud for allegedly misrepresenting job placement statistics. According to the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, the actions of the school are akin to false advertising and do not reflect on the quality of education at the school.
The class action against New York Law School alleges that the school misrepresents the number of graduates obtaining employment within 9 months after graduation. The complaint states, in part,
Plaintiffs want to bring an element of “sunlight” or transparency to the way law schools report post-graduate employment data and salary information, by requiring that they make critical, material disclosures that will give both prospective and current students a more accurate picture of their post-graduate financial situation, as opposed to the status quo where law schools are incentivized to engage in all sorts of legerdemain when tabulating employment statistics.
The complaint goes on to state that although the school's marketing materials claim that 90-95% of graduates obtain employment within 9 months of graduation, these statistics include any type of employment, whether full or part-time or merely temporary, and whether they require a law degree or not. Plaintiffs allege that if the school were to disclose the number of graduates obtaining full-time, permanent employment, the number could be as low as 50% or lower.
It is further alleged that the school inflates its reported salary statistics by not taking a statisically relevant sample, including those students who have failed to secure full-time, permanant employment.
The plaintiffs claim that while the economy is in recession and the legal industry is suffering, the school is enrolling increasingly larger classes for its own selfish financial reasons and enticing students with the inflated statistics, taking approximately $150,000 in tuition from each student, most of which is financed by non-dischargeable loans from students with grim prospects for post-graduate employment.
A similar class-action lawsuit has been filed by the same attorneys against Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Michigan. And in May, a suit brought on behalf of a 2008 graduate alleging fraud in misrepresenting employment statistics was brought against Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego.
But law schools are not only getting in trouble over employment statistics. The ABA Journal is reporting that the American Bar Association has sanctioned Villanoval Law School for misrepresenting admissions data. Villanova reported the misrepresentations to the ABA itself and the responsible parties, including a former dean and other law school officials, are no longer employed by the school.
What ethical messages are these kinds of misrepresentations sending to law students and young lawyers?