Anna Alaburda graduated from Thomas Jefferson School of Law in California eight years ago. After paying $150,000 in tuition, Ms. Alaburda graduated at the top of her class and passed the state’s bar exam in 2008. She claims that she has yet to find a full-time salaried job as a lawyer.
Now, Ms. Alaburda has made headlines for becoming the first former law student who is bringing a case against her law school, charging it with inflating employment data for its recent graduates as a way to entice prospective students to matriculate.
Elizabeth Olson, a journalist for the New York Times, reports that Thomas Jefferson’s average student indebtedness is among the highest in the nation at $137,000, surpassing that of Stanford Law School. Ms. Alaburda has also highlighted the fact that the school’s bar passage rate is consistently lower than 50% and underperforms relative to the statewide average.
A host of recent graduates in the last several years have tried to bring lawsuits against their universities for similar reasons, but none of their cases have made it as far as Ms. Alaburda’s. In the other suits, judges in Illinois, Michigan, and New York concluded that students had taken too big of a risk pursuing legal education and should have been clear-eyed enough to recognize that employment prospects as a lawyer were uncertain. However, a California judge has let Ms. Alaburda’s suit proceed.
“It has taken five years,” said Ms. Alaburda’s lawyer, Brian A. Procel of Los Angeles. “But this will be the first time a law school will be on the trail to defend its public employment figures.”
David Schepp of CBS Money Watch notes that Ms. Alaburda has over $170,000 in debt with loan interest around 8 percent. Since obtaining her degree, Ms. Alaburda has been working in a series of part-time positions, mostly temporary jobs reviewing documents for law firms. Today, she claims that she would not have enrolled in Thomas Jefferson had she known the school’s employment statistics were misleading.
For its part, Thomas Jefferson University maintains that, like other accused law schools, it filed the necessary data required by the American Bar Association’s accrediting body. The institution’s dean, Thomas F. Guernsey, said he could not comment on the suit, but reaffirmed that the school has a “strong track record of producing successful graduates, with 7,000 alumni working nationally and internationally.”
Thomas Jefferson’s lawyers claim that Ms. Alaburda never endured any actual injustice because she was offered a job with a $60,000 shortly after graduating. Curiously, she turned that position down.
Many students enter law school with the hope of attaining higher salaries. A law degree can increase earnings by as much as $30,000 to $60,000 annually over a bachelor’s degree. However, it often requires students to take burdensome amounts of debt, and many graduates find that their first years on the job market demand working in lowly, less glamorous positions.
Law schools themselves desperately try to have their employment data reflect strong placement rates because it is a major factor in how agencies rank law schools nationally; strong employment statistics also increase schools’ credibility in the eyes of prospective students.