Class Action Lawsuits Now Target Law Schools

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A threatened wave of class actions against American law schools became a reality last week after plaintiffs' lawyers sued a dozen more schools over their allegedly misleading use of salary and employment data. But this trend in "consumer protection" is potentially damaging, not only to U.S. law schools, but to higher education in general, said two attorneys for the national law firm LeClairRyan.

"If the goal of these suits is securing transparency on jobs data, then the plaintiffs and their counsel are going about this in entirely the wrong way," said veteran class action defense attorney  Michael Haratz, a Newark-based partner in LeClairRyan's Business Litigation team.  "While there is nothing wrong with working toward clear, consistent and coherent reporting standards, such matters are best addressed via the regulatory process—not by bending higher education to fit a consumerist paradigm more appropriate to a purchaser of traditional consumer goods."

The trend shows every sign of expanding to other institutions across the country, added Haratz. "According to a prominent legal journalist, for example, one of the plaintiffs' lawyers—someone who previously declared 2012 'the year of law school litigation'—hopes to sue up to 25 new schools every few months," he said.

The new complaints come in the wake of highly publicized class actions filed last year against Thomas M. Cooley Law School, New York Law School and Thomas Jefferson School of Law. The latest schools to be targeted reportedly are: Albany Law School, Brooklyn Law School, Hofstra Law School, Widener Law, Florida Coastal School of Law, Chicago-Kent College of Law, DePaul University College of Law, John Marshall Law School, California Western School of Law, Southwestern Law School, University of San Francisco School of Law, and Golden Gate University School of Law.

The complaints allege that U.S. law schools artificially boost enrollments by exaggerating or misrepresenting graduates' employment and salary statistics. "The problem with such litigation is that it runs contrary to the purpose and spirit underlying the class-action lawsuit as a vehicle for consumer redress," said Robert B. Smith a Boston-based LeClair Ryan partner and leader of the firm's Education Industry team. "Why? Because the consumerist paradigm does not fit higher education. Just as law degrees should not come with guarantees of 'gainful employment or your money back,' law students should not regard themselves as consumers entitled to same. After all, they are individuals with varying degrees of talent, motivation, discipline and intelligence. Their futures are their own responsibilities."  

About LeClairRyan

As a trusted advisor, LeClairRyan provides business counsel and client representation in corporate law and litigation. In this role, the firm applies its knowledge, insight and skill to help clients achieve their business objectives while managing and minimizing their legal risks, difficulties and expenses.  With offices in California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington, D.C., the firm has approximately 350 attorneys representing a wide variety of clients throughout the nation.  For more information about LeClairRyan, visit www.leclairryan.com.

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