UM among 20 schools under fire for misleading stats

Third-year law student Peter Cunha studies in the law library. Holly Bensur//The Miami Hurricane

The University of Miami School of Law, along with 19 other law schools around the country, is under scrutiny for inflated job placement and salary statistics shared with incoming students.

A New York attorney, David Anziska, is heading the initiative to sue the 20 schools, arguing that law schools have misled prospective students, The Miami Herald reported. The UM School of Law chose not to comment on the matter.

Law schools’ posted graduate job placement rates include not only part-time and temporary work, but also work unrelated to a law license, Anziska told The Miami Herald. For law school graduates who rack up hundreds of thousands in debt and remain unemployed, this misrepresentative data can be an issue.

UM’s website advertises that 83.5 percent of all 2010 graduates are employed, but 17.1 percent of these employed graduates hold short-term positions.

Marla Neufeld graduated from the UM School of Law in 2007 and has been with the same law firm ever since. She was able to find a job through family connections in the legal community, but not all of her classmates were as fortunate.

“I still have friends looking for jobs that have availability to keep them,” Neufeld said. “You’d think being a lawyer, you’d have some security, but it doesn’t feel that way at all.”

Job placement success is one of the four most heavily-weighted factors in U.S. News and World Report’s law school rankings. According to the U.S. News website, the American Bar Association will require more detailed jobs placement data for the 2011 graduating class.

The ABA will soon have law schools distinguish between how many graduates got jobs that are full time or part time, short term or long term, and require a law degree or do not. U.S. News said it plans to incorporate this data into its methodology for future rankings.

Salary figures are also misleading because salary questionnaires do not accurately reflect the entire graduating class if only the best-paid graduates feel comfortable responding, Anziska explained to The Miami Herald. Nearly two-thirds of UM’s 2010 graduates did not report salary data, for example.

Sophomore Stephanie Simeon , a pre-law student, said that these statistics are major factors in the law school application process, and she plans to look at the U.S. News report when applying to law school.

Allen Kronenberger, a second-year UM law student, said he feels that the case does not change his opinion of the school and does not expect it to tarnish UM’s reputation in the eyes of employers.

“This is a problem that encompasses all law schools, not just Miami,” he said.

Anziska said he ultimately hopes for partial tuition reimbursement to law school students, and more transparent job placement and salary statistics, according to The Miami Herald.

Neufeld said she thinks that students are better off with “completely honest” statistics than inflated ones.

“They can assess if they want to take those loans out and spend those three years in law school knowing what they have to face when they’re done,” she said.

Anziska told The Miami Hurricane that he would officially file the class action lawsuit against the 20 schools by Memorial Day. He has already heard from Miami-area students willing to serve as plaintiffs, The Miami Herald reported.

Neufeld said that graduates should participate in the suit if they feel that they were harmed and are able to prove it, but also offered a warning.

“It’s a very small legal community and you might not want your name going against one of the largest law schools in the state, so it’s a tough call,” she said.

Ricky Fernandez, a first-year UM law student, believes that the university is prepared to handle the case and does not expect the prosecution to win.

Anziska, along with lawyer Jesse Strauss, filed a similar lawsuit against the New York Law School in August 2011. This March, the case was dismissed, with Judge Melvin Schweitzer saying, “In this court’s view, the issues posted by this case exemplify the adage that not every ailment afflicting society may be redressed by a lawsuit,” reported Above The Law.

However, the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in California has been unable to get the suit dismissed. The school’s associate dean for student affairs, Beth Kransberger, told the National Law Journal that the lawsuit is part of a much larger debate “about whether it’s practical to pursue a graduate degree in these difficult economic times.”