SAN DIEGO -- An unusual trial is scheduled in San Diego Superior Court Tuesday in a lawsuit filed by a former student against her law school, alleging that it inflated employment data for its graduates as a way to lure students to enroll.
Anna Alaburda graduated from Thomas Jefferson School of Law in 2008. Her lawsuit states even though she graduated with honors, she has been “unable to secure a full time job as an attorney.”
Alaburda filed her lawsuit in 2011, claiming she would not have enrolled in the school had she known the school's statistics were misleading. Alaburda said she has student debt totaling $170,000.
Attorneys for Thomas Jefferson School of Law are expected to argue that Alaburda did not suffer any actual injury because she was offered -- and turned down -- a $60,000-a-year job with a law firm after she graduated.
“She has a very difficult case ahead of her,” attorney and legal analyst Brian Watkins said. Watkins is not affiliated with Alaburda’s case.
Alaburda is suing for fraud. In her lawsuit she claims the Thomas Jefferson School of Law provided information that is “false and misleading.” She says the school included all post-graduate employment in its numbers, including if a student works as a part-time waiter or convenience store clerk.”
Watkins says Alaburda has to prove the law school advertisement directly caused her to go to Thomas Jefferson.
“There may be some false advertising, but she also has to prove that the false advertising is what induced her to incur that debt and go to law school,” Watkins said.
Watkins calls the case “very unique.”
“You’re talking about suing an institution because you didn’t get a job,” Watkins said.
Alaburda initially filed the lawsuit as a class-action, but the judge tossed that out. Watkins said the lawsuit could open the door to “other people similarly situated.”
In the past several years, at least 15 lawsuits have sought to hold various law schools accountable for publicly listing information that critics say was used to inflate alumni job numbers, but only one other lawsuit besides Alaburda's remains active, according to published reports.
Judges in other states have ruled that law students opted for law school at their own peril and should have known that employment as an attorney was not guaranteed.
Jury selection is expected to get underway in the courtroom of Judge Joel Pressman.
Team 10 received the following statement from Dean Thomas Guernsey at Thomas Jefferson School of Law:
"While we cannot comment on the specifics of a lawsuit during ongoing litigation, we can say that Thomas Jefferson School of Law is whole-heartedly committed to providing our students with the knowledge, skills and tools necessary to excel as law students, pass the bar exam and succeed in their professional careers. We have a strong track record of producing successful graduates, with 7,000 alumni working nationally and internationally."