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Attorneys representing the more than 70 law school graduates who recently sued their alma maters over allegedly misleading job placement statistics say they plan to pursue dozens of other cases by year-end, but some legal and insurance experts doubt many of those claims will make it to trial.
Fifteen lawsuits have been filed against law schools in five states since the beginning of the year. New York-based attorney David Anziska, who is representing plaintiffs in three of the suits and was the conceptual architect of the litigation, said the suits are, in essence, matters of false advertising on the part of the law schools.
Among the schools that have been sued are Brooklyn Law School in New York, DePaul University College of Law in Chicago, and University of San Francisco School of Law.
“It's a failure to disclose that the majority of their students fail to obtain jobs for which their degree is required or preferred,” Mr. Anziska said. “Students wound up paying inflated tuitions based on what we believe are overly broad—or in many cases downright false—placement statistics.”
Mr. Anziska said the plaintiffs in his cases will seek reimbursement of some portion of their tuition. However, some legal and insurance experts believe it will be difficult for the plaintiffs to establish that the law schools were responsible for predicting future economic conditions at the time of the tuition payments, particularly given the speed with which employment outlooks soured over a period of two to three years.
“The economy turned so quickly that, as long as these schools didn't inflate their numbers for the class of 2011 when these students entered in 2009, I would expect that to be a defense,” said J.C. Wileman, a Los Angeles-based senior vp with Lockton Cos. L.L.C.'s higher education practice. “I would predict that if schools are still accurate within reason on their statistics, they'll probably get off on the bad economy defense.”
Moreover, experts said plaintiffs could struggle to prove allegations of overly broad representations if the schools' statistical reporting can be demonstrated to be reasonably accurate, even if the larger sample demonstrates a significantly different hiring trend than has been the reality in recent years.
“It's not as easy to say that the historical data is irrelevant or that it's a misrepresentation of the truth,” said Louis Castoria, the San Francisco-based chair of Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edleman & Dicker L.L.P.'s specialty professional risk practice. “If you have a good track record over that long a timespan of students finding degree-related work, it's still true, even if the present job market dries up.”
Despite their doubts as to the merits of the lawsuits, experts are still worried over the potential ramifications should a handful of graduates succeed in compelling schools to return a portion of their tuitions. Mr. Anziska himself has theorized that similar claims could be successfully levied against as much as 75% of the law schools in the United States.
“If a few of these cases grow roots and develop into significant newsworthy jury awards, it wouldn't surprise me to see a lot of other kinds of schools hit with similar claims,” Mr. Castoria said.
Successful litigation also could negatively impact schools' ability to insure themselves against future misrepresentation claims, experts said.
“If you have a case that sets precedent, it could alter how insurers choose to underwrite those schools, to the extent that there may be some limitations put on coverage for these kinds of allegations,” said Chris Schwyter, a Philadelphia-based senior vp at Willis North America.
A team of attorneys filed 12 separate lawsuits seeking class action status on behalf of alumni against law schools in five states accusing the schools of misleading the former students about their job prospects after graduation.