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In Buyer Beware Decision, Judge Tosses Grads’ Suit Against Cooley Law School

Posted Jul 23, 2012 6:59 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A federal judge in Michigan has dismissed a suit by 12 Cooley law grads claiming they were misled about their job prospects.

U.S. District Judge Gordon Quist dismissed the case on Friday, saying Cooley’s employment stats are “literally true” and the plaintiffs unreasonably relied on the school’s representations, the Wall Street Journal Law Blog reports. The judge also said the state’s consumer protection law does not apply to items purchased for a business purpose, including the purchase of a legal education.

“With red flags waiving and cautionary bells ringing, an ordinary prudent person would not have relied on the statistics to decide to spend $100,000 or more,” Quist wrote in his decision (PDF). "The bottom line is that the statistics provided by Cooley and other law schools in a format required by the ABA were so vague and incomplete as to be meaningless and could not reasonably be relied upon. But, as put in the phrase we lawyers learn early in law school—caveat emptor."

The grads’ suit had claimed fraud, negligent misrepresentation and violation of Michigan’s Consumer Protection Act. The plaintiffs had maintained they would not have enrolled at Cooley or would not have paid its high tuition if they had realized its jobs statistics included temporary and part-time employment and employment for which a JD was not required or preferred.

Quist, however, found no cause of action for fraud or misrepresentation. Plaintiffs unreasonably deduced that the "percentage of graduates employed" statistic included only graduates who were employed in full time legal positions, Quist wrote. It was also unreasonable to believe Cooley's stated average starting salary of $54,796 represented a figure for all its graduates, Quist said. The figure represents the average salary of graduates who responded to the school’s survey and chose to reveal their salaries.

“Without question, the Employment Reports are inconsistent, confusing, and inherently untrustworthy,” Quist wrote. “For example, whether plaintiffs are referring to the median or mean average, there is an ambiguity in the descriptor of salary because the average salary stated in Cooley’s dissemination assumes the existence of a salary in the first place. In other words, a question arises, as it arose in oral argument, does the statistic consider the ‘salaries’ of those Cooley graduates who were not employed or who were sole practitioners who listed a salary of zero? Plaintiffs argued, as stated above, that to have failed to consider a 'zero' salary would be misleading. But maybe not. This is the kind of question that a person serious about considering this statistic would ask. Plaintiffs and prospective students should have approached their decision to enter into law school with extreme caution given the size of the investment.”

A judge in New York State dismissed a similar suit against New York Law School in March.

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