New York Law School Sued for Inflating Job, Pay Statistics

New York Law School was sued by former students who accused the school of inflating statistics on graduates’ jobs and pay.

The lawsuit, filed today in New York, and a second suit filed in Michigan against Thomas M. Cooley Law School, claim the schools knowingly inflated employment and salary statistics to recruit and retain students. The complaints were filed by three New York law graduates and four Cooley graduates seeking to represent all current and former students at both schools.

“We believe the practice of inflating employment statistics and salary information is endemic among law schools,” David Anziska, an attorney for the students with New York-based Kurzon Strauss LLP, said today in a statement. “We hope these suits bring systematic change in the way legal education is marketed by making transparency and accuracy the rule, not the exception.”

U.S. law school graduates are facing a difficult job market as firms struggle to recover from the recession. The National Association for Law Placement reported last month that starting salaries for last year’s law school graduates plummeted 20 percent as private practice jobs eroded. The report cited information submitted by 192 laws schools and covering 93 percent of 2010 graduates.

The issue of legal education took center stage at the American Bar Association’s annual meeting where delegates adopted two resolutions Aug. 8 asking for more assistance for student loans and urging schools to provide more detailed employment data, the National Law Journal reported yesterday.

‘Much Worse’

“It’s much worse out there than people realize,” Anziska said today on a conference call. “The NALP’s report significantly underplays how bad it is out there and how low placement rates are.”

Today’s complaints, which seek unspecified damages, claim that law schools, including New York Law and Cooley, misrepresent their graduates’ employment prospects by misclassifying graduates who have only secured part-time or temporary jobs as “fully” employed, according to Kurzon’s statement.

“It is time for the legal academy to own up to this problem,” said Jesse Strauss, an attorney for the students.

Cooley stands by its job placement rates reported annually to the American Bar Association and the National Association for Law Placement. The data is reported nine months after graduations based on the results of surveys and are consistent with all 201 ABA accredited law schools, the school said in a statement last month.

‘Simply Baseless’

“Any claims that prospective students or our graduates have been misled or legally harmed by our reporting are simply baseless,” James Thelen, Cooley’s associate dean for legal affairs and general counsel, said today in an e-mailed statement.

“These claims are without merit and we will vigorously defend against them in court,” Richard A. Matasar, dean of New York Law School, said today in a statement.

New York Law and Cooley function as “JD factories” churning out record numbers of students each year while saddling them with tens of thousands of dollars in debt amid dismal job prospects, according to the complaints filed today.

The schools don’t differentiate between types of employment and include jobs in their graduate employment reports that aren’t related to the legal industry, according to the complaint. The schools also grossly inflate graduates’ mean salaries by calculating them based on a small subset of students, according to the complaint.

‘Terrible Investment’

New York Law students, on average, graduate with $119,439 in loans, the top 17th percentile of indebtedness among all law schools, lawyers for the NYLS graduates said in the complaint, citing data from U.S. News & World Report. Cooley graduates have an average of $105,798 in loans, the complaint said.

Attending NYLS and “forking over nearly $150,000 in tuition payments is a terrible investment which makes little economic sense and, most likely, will never pay off,” according to the complaint.

New York Law School, founded in 1891, is one of the oldest independent law schools in the U.S. with about 1,500 students, according to its website.

Founded in 1972, Cooley enrolls about 4,000 students across four campuses in Michigan, according to its website. The school announced earlier this week that it would open a fifth campus in Riverview, Florida, outside Tampa Bay, in May.

‘Troll’ for Plaintiffs

Cooley sued Kurzon Strauss and four anonymous bloggers in separate complaints last month claiming they defamed the school through Web postings. Cooley, based in Lansing, Michigan, accused the law firm of false statements on websites to “incite” the readers and to “troll” for plaintiffs for a purported class-action lawsuit.

Cooley said today it plans to pursue the defamation claims against Kurzon Strauss.

The cases are Gomez-Jimenez v. New York Law School, New York state Supreme Court (New York); MacDonald Jr. v. Thomas M. Cooley Law School, 11-00831, U.S. District Court, Western District of Michigan (Lansing).

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