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Reuters/Michael Dalder
Shifting the blame from person to machine.
LAW AND ORDER

A law school has won a court case about its own worth as a law school

By Amy X. Wang

Anna Alaburda, a 2008 graduate of the Thomas Jefferson School of Law, had accused her alma mater of fudging post-graduation employment numbers, which left her without employment in the legal profession and $170,000 of debt.

Her case—alleging fraud, negligence, and a smattering of other misdeeds harming students—was the first of its kind to go to trial, after similar lawsuits against Golden Gate University and the University of San Francisco (among dozens of others) failed to make it.

The San Diego Superior Court picked up Alaburda’s case and a jury deliberated over it for two days this week. Its verdict? Thomas Jefferson did not intentionally mislead students with wonky employment statistics—it just made some mistakes.

The school tried in good faith to collect accurate employment data, a juror on the case told the Associated Press after the ruling yesterday (March 24). Thomas Jefferson had reported a pass rate at the bar of less than 50% in 2011, while also claiming 90% of its graduates that year were employed. According to Alaburda’s lawyer, the school failed to specify that jobs like Victoria’s Secret sales clerk and pool cleaner counted into those numbers. Thomas Jefferson acknowledged “isolated mistakes” and “clerical errors”—but the school maintained it did not lie.

This is good for US law schools: a ruling in Alaburda’s favor would have cast increased suspicion on them and likely forced some shadier institutions to buckle. But it’s bad for law students, who will continue facing ambiguous numbers when trying to gauge schools’ worth.

In a time when demand for lawyers is shrinking, law schools are desperate for applicants. Or as Michael Sullivan, a lawyer for Thomas Jefferson, chose to phrase it:

This is not, you know, Trump University. It is so not that. It is such a really excellent law school.