Judges hold that Cooley Law School is not accountable for its representations about graduate employment
A dozen former Thomas M. Cooley Law School students sued the private, for-profit, institution, arguing that the school had defrauded them by representations about graduate employment and income. This week, the dismissal of the students' lawsuit was upheld by the Sixth Circuit. The appellate judges noted that the average student spent $38,000 dollars per year in tuition, plus another estimated average of $16,000.00 of living expenses, only to graduate into a job market where there are law positions for only half of the total law school graduates.
The judges pointed out that the Law School pays its Dean more than half-a-million dollars annually, making him one of the highest-paid law school deans in the country, while also paying a former dean nearly $400,000.00. Eleven other Law School employees earn between $200,000.00 and $250,000.00. In the meantime, Cooley has "the lowest admissions standards of any accredited or provisionally accredited law school in the country," accepting 83% of applicants. It also has the lowest LSAT scores and undergraduate grades of any school. It's retention rates are startlingly low, as well: almost 32% of students don't enroll for a second year; ten percent of second year students don't return for a third year, and in 2008 about 3 percent of third-year students don't finish. When they do finish, they are burdened with, on average, $105,798 inj student loan debt.
The students alleged that they were misled into this debacle by the "Thomas M. Cooley Law School Employment Report and Salary Survey" which suggests that about 76% of students are employed within nine months of graduation (the 2010 figure) and that the "average starting salary of all graduates" was $54,796.00." The suing students argued that these statistics were false representations of reality and that they so mis-represented the truth that the Law School should be held accountable.
The judges cited a variety of reasons for rejecting the students' claims. First they pointed to the employment figures and noted that Cooley didn't actually claim that these graduates were actually employed in law or related fields--even though the numbers were divided by categories that implied as much (i.e., "private practice, government, public interest, judicial clerkship, academic, business," etc.). Since the statements were not expressly limited to law-related jobs, they were not lies.
With regard to the salary, the Court held that it was apparent on the face of Cooley's representations that the statements could not reasonably be relied upon. The Court ignored the "and" in the title of the document, holding that it should have been apparent that the salary figures were a product of a survey and therefore not the "average of all graduates" that the document falsely claimed. ("Despite the statement's untruth...")
Lastly, the Court held that Cooley's practices, however deceptive, were not subject to the MIchigan Consumer Protection Act because the entering students were looking to better themselves in a career--and therefore Cooley was not selling a consumer product.
Finally, Cooley wasn't guilty of silent fraud because it was under no duty to disclose or publish accurate figures. Since none of the students could prove that they had asked Cooley for true figures, they couldn't hold Cooley responsible for providing the misleading information it did provide.
The School and this decision should be a source of pride to our state and to the Law School's graduates. They are certainly a comment on the state of our law. I wonder if Cooley sponsors an ethics class and who teaches it?