Law graduates from two of the country's biggest schools filed class action suits against their alma maters alleging that the schools were inflating employment and salary statistics to lure students.
The law suits were filed against New York Law School in lower Manhattan and Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing, Michigan, by three New York law graduates and four Cooley graduates seeking to represent all current and former students at both schools.
The complaint against NYLS was filed in New York Supreme Court and a separate complaint was lodged against Cooley in Michigan federal court.
Both lawsuits state that the plaintiffs seek "to remedy a systemic, ongoing fraud that is ubiquitous in the legal education industry and threatens to leave a generation of law students in dire financial straits."
The law suit claims that both the schools were inflating statistics on graduates' job rates and salary to recruit and retain students. The complaint claims that the law schools misclassified graduates who have secured only part-time or temporary jobs as "fully" employed. Moreover, while both schools boast of employment rates of 80 percent or better within nine months of graduation, these statistics are distorted to make it appear like all the jobs are in the legal industry. The graduates' average salaries are inflated since it is derived from a selected pool of people who provide that information to the school, alleges the law suit.
"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."
The Cooley plaintiffs are seeking $250 million in damages and the New York Law School graduates are asking for $200 million in tuition refunds for a proposed class of recent graduates.
"These claims are without merit," Richard Matasar, the dean and president of New York Law School, said in a statement.
James Thelen, the associate dean for legal affairs and general counsel at Thomas Cooley, called the claims baseless. If the plaintiffs or their attorneys had issues with how law schools report employment numbers, then they ought to take it up with the American Bar Association, or even the Department of Education - but not with individual law schools, Thelen told Washington Street Journal Law Blog.
"These are nothing other than attempts to bring public attention to this issue," Thelen said, "and it certainly doesn't seem like the right way to go about it."
Last month Cooley sued Kurzon Strauss and four anonymous bloggers in separate complaints, claiming that they defamed the school by posting false statements on Web sites.
Cooley, which has four campuses in Michigan, is the largest law school in the country based on full- and part-time enrollment, with 4,000 students. Tuition for the 2011 academic year is $34,340, according to the school Web site.
New York Law School, founded in 1891, is one of the oldest independent law schools in the U.S. It has nearly 2000 full and part-time students, with tuition near $50,000.
This is not the first time that law schools have come under fire. In May, a similar lawsuit was filed by graduates of Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, demanding more transparent post-graduation data from their school.
On Monday, the American Bar Association's 566-member House of Delegates adopted two resolutions related to legal education, reports Reuters. The first is designed to help graduates better manage the average $100,000 debt they accumulate at school. The second encourages law schools to report employment data in a way that more accurately reflects how many graduates find law-related jobs.