One Of America’s Worst Law Schools Avoids Legal Comeuppance

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Blake Neff Reporter
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One of the lowest-performing law schools in America dodged a legal bullet Thursday, after a California jury said it didn’t have to compensate a graduate who was unable to obtain a legal job.

Thomas Jefferson School of Law (TJSL), which is based in San Diego, was accused by 2008 graduate Anna Alaburda of falsifying the employment statistics of graduates in order to make job prospects at the school look better than they really were. Alaburda claimed the school represented students as “employed” as long as they held any kind of paid job for even a single day within 9 months of graduation, and she added they simply fabricated other data entirely.

These sham statistics, Alaburda said, influenced her decision to attend the school. But once she completed the program, after taking on over $150,000 in student loan debt, Alaburda found herself unable to find a full-time legal job. In her suit, she sought reimbursement for her tuition along with $125,000 to compensate for wages she claimed she lost by attending TJSL

TJSL’s lawyers countered Alaburda’s claims by arguing she was simply trying to blame the school for her own failures. The school had never represented a law degree as a guarantee of a good legal job, they argued.

Ultimately, a jury voted 9-3 to reject Alaburda’s suit.

A decision in favor of Alaburda could have had major ramifications for lower-ranked law schools around the country, paving the way for a wave of similar lawsuits that could have led to financially weak law schools going bankrupt entirely. Several other underemployed law graduates have brought suits against their alma maters making similar allegations, but Alaburda’s was the first to survive dismissal efforts and go to trial. After Thurday’s result, it may be the last. (RELATED: Gulags: America’s Ten Worst Law Schools)

But Thomas Jefferson’s court victory won’t change what is, in general, a very grim market for attorneys in the United States. The legal industry has never really recovered from the 2008 financial crisis, and a declining number of jobs has clashed with a seemingly neverending torrent of new JDs. While applications to law schools have fallen dramatically, enrollments have dipped more slowly, and every year there are significantly more freshly-minted JD’s than there are legal jobs for them to fill. Yet even as the job market has stagnated, law school tuition has kept growing at a rapid pace, meaning the typical law school graduate has to take on over $100,000 in debt to complete their degree.

The depressing job market and high debt burdens have helped drive a tremendous degree of misery among young lawyers. A survey of attorneys released Thursday by Gallup found that among recent graduates about a third regretted their decision to attend law school.

The decline of the legal profession has been hard on schools like TJSL, which sits near the bottom of most law school rankings. TJSL is unattached to any larger university and is almost entirely dependent on student tuition dollars to sustain itself, but its low ranking means the school was one of the first to see enrollment decline as the legal market tanked. In 2014, the school just narrowly escaped bankruptcy after declining enrollment left it unable to pay its debts. (RELATED: Cooley Law School Cancels Entire Incoming Class)

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