A state judge on Wednesday threw out a class-action lawsuit against New York Law School, one of the first of 15 schools hauled into court for allegedly inflating their job-placement and salary statistics to attract applicants.
The sweeping ruling, which could have an effect on the 14 other lawsuits filed since last summer and 20 others that have since been threatened, was issued by Judge Melvin L. Schweitzer, of the Supreme Court of the State of New York (a trial-level court in spite of its name).
In a 36-page ruling, the judge found that the plaintiffs had failed to prove that the law school had misled them "in a material way." Judge Schweitzer also said applicants to New York Law School had plenty of information available to them about their realistic chances of getting a job.
"Plaintiffs could not have reasonably relied on NYLS's alleged misrepresentations ... because they had ample information from additional sources and thus the opportunity to discover the then-existing employment prospects" at each stage of their legal education, he wrote.
"It is also difficult for the court to conceive that somehow lost on these plaintiffs is the fact that a goodly number of these law-school graduates toil (perhaps part time) in drudgery or have less than hugely successful careers,” he added. “NYLS applicants, as reasonable consumers of a legal education, would have to be wearing blinders not to be aware of these well-established facts of life in the world of legal employment."
However, he expressed sympathy for law-school graduates who have taken on steep debts and can't find work. "To the extent law schools are turning out too many graduates for the positions available, market forces will begin to correct themselves, hopefully in short order," Judge Schweitzer wrote. "But that does not excuse our collective responsibility to those who have been unfortunate enough to have been caught in the midst of the maelstrom. To them we owe our best efforts to get them situated."
New York Law School was sued in August by the firm Kurzon Strauss, the same day the firm filed a similar action against Thomas M. Cooley Law School, in Michigan. In the New York case, the plaintiffs said the school's published statistics showed that up to 92 percent of its graduates had jobs nine months after graduation, but failed to point out that some of those graduates were working in coffee shops or in part-time jobs.
In a statement on its Web site, the law school called the ruling "a clear, thoughtful, and comprehensive" decision. "New York Law School works hard to communicate the realities of the legal job market to current and prospective students," it said. "We will continue to provide an excellent legal education to our students, and to support our students and graduates as they embark on their professional careers."
Michael J. Volpe is an alumnus of New York Law School whose New York firm, Venable LLP, represented the school. "It's been satisfying to represent the law school against these serious and, we thought, meritless claims," he said on Wednesday.
The lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, David Anziska, issued a statement vowing to appeal the case.
"This is one setback in a long-term process, and we always expected for many of these issues to ultimately be resolved on an appellate level," he wrote. "Moreover, we fully intend to soldier on and to sue many more law schools in the forthcoming weeks and months."
Correction (4:24 p.m.): This article provided an incorrect quotation from the judge's ruling. He wrote that the plaintiffs had failed to prove that the law school had misled them "in a material way," not "in any material way." The article has been updated to reflect this correction.