The New Law School “Class”

Chas Rutledge

Jobless law school grads have been suing their alma maters all over the country. Most are unsuccessful and this latest attempt by twelve graduates of Thomas Cooley Law School in Lansing, Michigan, was no different. The students claimed that the school’s misrepresentation of employment statistics led them to attend the school, and that, if they knew the true statistics, they would have either not attended the school or paid less in tuition ($300,000,000 less). The Sixth Circuit confirmed that it was unreasonable to rely on the statistics.

Like many law schools, Thomas Cooley claimed that 76% of 2010 graduates were employed even though some of these students “could be working as a barista in Starbucks.” Of course, the statement was literally true because it did not define “employment.” The second stat at issue was an average starting salary of $54,796. FN1The court admitted this one was “objectively untrue” in that it only included students that responded to the survey rather than all graduates. Yet the court thought that the students should have either looked closer FN2 or asked more questions. FN3

A recent study found that there were twice as many people who passed a bar examination—53,508—as there were job openings—26,239.FN4  This case is interesting in that Thomas Cooley enrolls more students than any other law school (about 4,000 in 2010-2011) and charges $36,750 for tuition, while offering the lowest admissions standards of any accredited or provisionally accredited law schools in the country.FN5 Each of these students graduated with an average debt of $105,798. Interestingly, however, a majority of the students suing here currently own and operate their own “law firm.” If this case shows us anything, it’s never good to have too many bored or unemployed lawyers.


FN1 The court explained that the “graduates’ reliance on the statement that the ‘[a]verage starting salary for all graduates’ was ‘$54,796’ was unreasonable in light of both the statement that the “[n]umber of graduates with employment status known” was less than the total number of graduates and the very title of the report (a “Salary Survey”). Because their reliance was unreasonable, their claim for fraudulent misrepresentation failed as a matter of law. Therefore, the district court properly dismissed the claim.”

FN2 The court felt that the students couldn’t have looked closely enough: “Unreasonable reliance includes relying on an alleged misrepresentation that was expressly contradicted in a written contract that a plaintiff reviewed and signed. A plaintiff unreasonably relies on one of the defendant’s statements if another of the defendant’s statements contradicts it. Here, the statement ‘average starting salary for all graduates’ expressly contradicted other statements in the very same report showing that the report itself was based not on data for the entire class, but on data from those who completed the surveys.” (citations omitted)

FN3 The court also rejected the students’ silent fraud claim since none of the students actually inquired about the statistics: “the Cooley graduates did not allege in their amended complaint that they ever asked Cooley about the claims in its Employment Reports so as to create a duty for Cooley to disclose the truth. As the district court noted, the graduates admitted, in their response to Cooley’s motion to dismiss, that they did not allege that they specifically requested additional information regarding Cooley’s employment reports beyond what was publicly available[.]’”

FN4 See Catherine Rampell, The Lawyer Surplus, State by State, New York Times (June 27, 2011), http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/06/27/the-lawyer-surplus-state-by-state/.

FN5 According to U.S. News, Thomas Cooley accepted 83% of all applicants.