In 2011 and 2012, fifteen law schools were sued by former students who alleged that their alma maters had disseminated misleading post-graduate employment and salary statistics. Relying on common law fraud and state consumer protection laws, the plaintiffs contended that the schools failed to differentiate full-time law industry jobs from other jobs, which misled the plaintiffs into believing that attending and graduating from their law school would give them a better chance of getting a job upon graduation. The first suit was brought in California against Thomas Jefferson Law School, but soon a group of lawyers in New York City jumped on the bandwagon and began to sue law schools all over the country on this theory. After first suing in Michigan and New York in 2011, the New York lawyers sued another group of law schools in early 2012 in California, Illinois, New Jersey and Florida. All together, the New York lawyers have sued 14 law schools.
Six cases in federal and state courts in New York, Michigan, and Illinois have been dismissed on motions. The rulings in favor of the schools revolve around the common themes that, although the law schools could have been more forthcoming, the employment statistics were literally true and reasonable law students would not have been misled. Some judges ruled that the plaintiffs could never prove that the employment statistics affected their individual job prospects and any damages would be speculative. The only case to reach an appellate court (in New York) has affirmed the lower court’s dismissal. Three of the California cases survived motions to dismiss while all of the other cases are awaiting rulings.
The higher education community has been watching these cases closely. One development is that the ABA has changed the way law schools report employment statistics to make those numbers more detailed and transparent. Although only law schools have been targeted thus far, it is not a stretch to anticipate that similar suits might be brought against colleges and other graduate schools which publish post-graduation employment and salary data.
With most cases being dismissed so far, the threat of new litigation has been reduced but colleges and universities should take this opportunity to ensure that the post-graduation employment statistics they publish are accurate and do not paint an overly optimistic employment picture.
(Bruce R. Alper of Vedder Price P.C. represents one of the Chicago defendants.)