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Cooley, New York Law School hit with lawsuits from former students

By J. DeVoy

Two lawsuits were filed today in New York and Michigan against New York Law School (not to be confused with New York University School of Law) and Thomas M. Cooley Law School, respectively.  The plaintiffs, former students of the two schools – which have been in at least the bottom half of U.S. News & World Report’s rankings for as long as I can recall – claim that the schools “knowingly inflated employment and salary statistics to recruit and retain students.” (source.)  Moreover, the article is unclear which of Cooley’s four campuses were sued, but presumably all of them were, including its nascent Tampa outpost.

At the heart of the lawsuit is a question of classification.  The plaintiffs allege that NYLS and Cooley knowingly misclassified students in part-time or temporary jobs as “fully employed,” benefitting from the appearance of employment rates higher than they actually were.  Logically, these employment rates were part of the reason students attended those schools, and thus the schools’ alleged inflation of these employment rates made it easier to attract prospective students and their federal student loans… or so the theory goes. (source.)

The Bloomberg article notes that Cooley is suing the plaintiffs’ firm for defamation related to blog comments it made about Cooley’s business practices. (source.)  In an odd twist of irony, NYLS’ apparently outgoing dean, Richard Matasar, has been an outspoken critic of legal education’s flaws while simultaneously engaging in the practices that leave it so broken, including tuition hikes, dramatically increasing class sizes, and a myopic focus on investing in facilities. (source.)

Some may be cheering that this day has come.  I regret that it has, as the ABA should have been a better steward to the profession and prevented legal education from reaching this point.  Admittedly, it is no easy task, especially with the DOE falling over itself to give hundreds of thousands of dollars of non-dischargable debt to anyone with a pulse, but it must be done.  If the ABA lacks the fortitude to tell some people “no, you cannot be a lawyer,” it should outsource its spine to the American Association of Law Schools (“AALS”).  While trading the ABA for the AALS as an accreditation body may be trading one set of problems for another, at least the AALS has standards (theoretically) and sees the devastation wrought in other education sectors by for-profit toilets and fly-by-night schools concerned more by their own earnings and existence than the detritus they spew into the world – and the young lives they ruin in the process.

Needless to say, a segment of the legal education community likely will follow these cases with considerable detail.  It is, however, an issue with broader implications.  Hey CoOp – this affects your jobs and the legitimacy of the institutions that employ you.  Pay attention to it.  Stop letting the ABA turn your institutions into profit mills while you eat lotus flowers and philosophize the day away.  Even if these lawsuits do not achieve their intended objectives, they finally shine a light on the high cost of worthless graduate education, and the extent to which some programs will conceal their utter failure.

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