Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Gomez-Jimenez et al v. New York Law School, ___Misc. 3d____, 2012 NY Slip Op (N.Y. Co. March 21, 2012), is a case that every, and I mean every, law school adminstrator must read. In fact, prospective law students, as well as law professors in general, should review this decision as well.
The case was brought by nine former law students. Interestingly, they did not challenge the quality of the education they received. Instead, they alleged that New York Law School engage in unfair and fraudlent practices, fraudulent misrepresentation and negligent misrepresentation.
In a scholarly opinion, full of cites to articles and an exhaustive review of case law, the court in a thirty-page decision dismisses each claim one by one and grants New York Law School's motion to dismiss.
Plaintiffs' theory was that New York Law School published misleading employment statistics which plaintiffs' relied upon. In rejecting this claim, the court viewed the plaintiffs as educated consumers and pointed to the poor job market for lawyers as reflected in their papers.
Apparently, plaintiffs believe that New York Law School statistics were misleading because it included all employment whether or not someone was working in a legally related job and whether the person was working full-time, temporary or part-time. Their claim is a bit hard to determine from a bare reading of the decision. In any event, the court concluded that New York Law School did not make any misrepresentation because they did not state in their published statistics that these statistics only represented full-time employment.
Frankly, I believe that is quiet a stretch. It is entirely reasonable for a law student to assume that statistics published on a school web site refer to full-time employment. Most law students do not go to law school in order to seek part-time employment when they graduate.
The court also gives significant weight to U.S. News Law School rankings and assumes that they are accurate. The court explains that because New York Law School does not rank high, plaintiffs could have evaluated this when deciding whether or not to chose New York Law School. The court states:
"One would think that reasonable consumers, armed with publicly available information from U.S. News that plaintiffs cite, thus would avail themselves of plaintiffs' own logic as stated in their complaint when it comes to evaluating their chances of obtaining the full-time legal job of their choice within nine months post-graduation."
What!! Even assuming that U.S. News is the bible, and it surely isn't even close, the U.S. News rankings is based upon several criteria. The U.S. News is not a placement bulletin. Also, the court is assuming that higher ranked schools have better placement rates. That may be true, but courts should not be in the business of making assumptions.
The court also errs, in my view, by stating that "before 2008 there was a seeming abundance of opportunities for lawyers at all points of entry into the profession, regardless of the law school one attended. . . " The court does not cite any authority for this proposition. I have been a lawyer for quite some time and the market has been quite difficult for lawyers as well as law students for quite some time-both before and after 2008.
The court's most significant error is that because of the changing nature of legal practice "[m]andatory retirement ages are coming down." Excuse me, but mandatory retirement has been per se unlawful under the ADEA for years.
To be fair, the also court makes some vaild points about the Great Recession of 2008 which is when most plaintiffs were in school. The decision is also well written. Plaintiffs also had a high bar to cross given the elements of each cause of action they had to prove.
I do not express any opinion about whether or not any of these mistakes are material enough to warrant an appeal. I have been an adjunct faculty member at New York Law School for about 7 years and I do not know any of the players involved in this case-at least I don't think so. I can honestly say that everyone I ever met at New York Law School, including faculty and students, always appeared sincere and honest. I do not believe for one minute that New York Law School would intentionally or negligent mislead any student.
Mitchell H. Rubinstein
New York Law School Press Release, here
New York Law Journal Article, here (registration required)