Fraudulent employment data lawsuits against two New York law schools fizzle

Eric Owens | Editor

Law schools across the country make a big fuss to students about ethics, justice and other high-minded stuff. When it comes to reporting wrong — possibly fraudulently wrong — employment data to prospective applicants, though, caveat emptor is apparently the rule.

And several judges in New York are totally fine with that.

A state appeals court recently ruled that New York Law School provided an “unquestionably incomplete” picture about job prospects for new graduates — but the court said the school did not defraud its alumni, Courthouse News Service reports.

Three alumni of New York Law School — which is not (remotely) the same as the New York University School of Law — filed the $200 million class action lawsuit in 2011. The stand-alone law school lured them into paying steep tuition rates, they say, by trumpeting false statistics suggesting that their NYLS law degrees would result in high-paying jobs.

“The school during the class period claims that the overwhelming majority of its graduates — roughly between 90 and 95 percent — secure employment within nine months of graduation,” the complaint alleges, according to Courthouse News. “However, the reality of the situation is that these seemingly robust numbers include any type of employment, including jobs that have absolutely nothing to do with the legal industry, do not require a J.D. degree or are temporary or part-time in nature.”

The complaint charges that the percentage of graduates who obtain full-time, permanent jobs in which they actually need their degrees is considerably below 50 percent.

The plaintiffs also maintain that NYLS greatly exaggerated the average salaries of its graduates, and has hired graduates who can’t find jobs to fill temporary research positions in order to pad employment stats.

The complaint alleges that these and other deceptive practices allowed the school to enroll more students, charge higher tuition rates and reward professors and administrators with higher salaries and sweeter perks.

The stand-alone law school has denied the plaintiff’s accusations, saying that it complied with all American Bar Association reporting rules.

The trial court and, now, an appellate court agreed.

“While we are troubled by the unquestionably less than candid and incomplete nature of defendant’s disclosures, a party does not violate (state law) by simply publishing truthful information and allowing consumers to make their own assumptions about the nature of the information,” Justice Rolando Acosta wrote for the five-member appellate panel, notes Courthouse News.

The court also noted that the ABA has revised its disclosure guidelines concerning employment statistics.

Meanwhile, about 130 miles upstate, Acting Supreme Court Justice Richard Platkin dismissed a similar lawsuit against Albany Law School.

Platkin is an alumnus (and former valedictorian) of Albany Law, but he denied the plaintiffs’ request that he recuse himself.

The lawsuit against Albany Law was also brought by one-time students and based on the premise that school-reported employment data was “likely to mislead a reasonable consumer,” reports JD Journal.

In his decision, Platkin said that law students were not the equivalent of “general consumers.” Instead, the judge wrote, they are “a reasonably well-educated group of consumers who are called upon to make major life decisions.”

The unbiased judge also proclaimed that prospective students should not enroll in any law school based on an isolated set of employment-related statistics.

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