Former law students at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law continue their quest to prove that the downtown San Diego school tricked them into enrolling with false employment rates. Instead of lucrative jobs at law firms, the students struggled to find work while saddled with hundreds of thousands of dollars in student-loan debt.
The suit against Thomas Jefferson School of Law is just one of many class-action lawsuits throughout the country filed on behalf of malcontented law students. Several of the lawsuits have been dismissed. However, the case against Thomas Jefferson School of Law continues.
According to court documents recently filed by the plaintiff's attorney, the school, in response to the lawsuit, is disclosing accurate job-placement numbers; at the same time, however, the school has since lowered admission standards.
From 2007 to 2013, says a newly amended complaint, the admission rate more than tripled, from 24.1 percent in 2007 to over 80 percent in 2013. Tuition rates also increased. The court documents allege that the "average student indebtedness" rose from $83,000 in 2005 to approximately $180,000 in 2014. Annual tuition for a full-time student is just under $45,000 per year, not including room and board or cost of living.
"...[Thomas Jefferson School of Law] is admitting more students and charging more than ever before," reads the lawsuit.
"[Thomas Jefferson School of Law] is entirely unconcerned with the most critical issue that its students will face when they graduate — paying off their law school debt.
"...At the end of the day, [Thomas Jefferson School of Law] is more concerned with raking in millions of dollars in tuition and fees than educating and training its students. The disservice [Thomas Jefferson School of Law] is doing to its students and society generally is readily apparent. Many [Thomas Jefferson School of Law] graduates will never be offered work as attorneys or otherwise be in a position to profit from their law school education. And they will be forced to repay hundreds of thousands of dollars in school loans that are nearly impossible to discharge, even in bankruptcy."
Four former law students, Anna Alaburda, Jill Ballard, Daniela Loomis, and Nikki Nguyen, filed the lawsuit in 2011. Since graduating, the newly minted lawyers failed to find jobs.
In one case, former student Ballard allegedly had to apply for food stamps for two years after graduating in order to survive, earning less than $10,000 per year. She currently lives with her mother. Others depend on family or spouses for housing and support so they can pay what they say are exorbitant student-loan payments.
Making matters worse for the former students, according to the complaint, is while they struggle to make ends meet and try and find gainful employment, Thomas Jefferson School of Law, as reported by the Reader in November 2014, restructured its debt and moved into a new building.
And while a January trial date approaches, law-school administrators have tried to improve its reputation.
"We have, over the last 20 months, installed new leadership, trimmed the fat off the budget, restructured the debt, and instituted effective bar prep programs so students are fully ready to take the exam," wrote dean and president Thomas Guernsey in a March 2015 letter to prospective students and faculty. “It has been inspirational and gut-wrenching at the same time.
"Despite our efforts and achievements, the unfavorable perception of this law school is rampant in social media and traditional media as well as in law offices and courthouses. It wreaks havoc on our ability to attract potential students at a time when there is a serious decline in those aspiring to be lawyers....
"We will confront the reality of our reputation head on and act as if all the world were watching. We will seek opportunities to understand our role and our system’s role in the unfavorable opinions and develop a course of action for ourselves and for our school community. We know our value and our worth. We will tell our story in many different ways and invite our critics to our table."
The most important critics, for now, will sit inside a courtroom at opposing counsel's table in January.