Local law school grad relied on false employment figures, attorney says

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SAN DIEGO -- A Thomas Jefferson School of Law graduate spent more than $100,000 for her degree but was unable to find a full-time job as an attorney because she relied on false employment figures provided by the school, the plaintiff's lawyer said Wednesday.

An attorney for the law school countered that the employment data is “overwhelmingly accurate.''

Anna Alaburda, 37, filed her lawsuit in 2011, claiming false advertising and misrepresentations by the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego.

Her attorney, Brian Procel, told a San Diego civil jury in his opening statement that the Thomas Jefferson School of Law had a practice of presenting false employment figures for its graduates.

“She (Alaburda) would not have gone there if she'd known the truth,'' Procel told the jury.

Upon graduating from New York University, Alaburda took a job in Los Angeles before researching law schools, Procel said. Alaburda enrolled in TJSL in 2005 after reviewing employment data regarding its graduates and their ability to land jobs, her attorney said.

Even though she graduated with honors in 2008, Alaburda wasn't able to find a job with a law firm despite sending out 150 resumes, Procel said.

Eventually, Alaburda got a $60,000 job offer from a San Bernardino law firm and took a $70,000-a-year job with a legal publisher, her attorney said.

Procel said Alaburda never considered filing a lawsuit until 2011, when she read a New York Times article on TJSL employment figures.

“She relied on those employment figures,'' Procel told the jury. “She went there under false pretenses.''

Procel said Alaburda is seeking $125,000 in damages for tuition and lost wages and an order preventing TJSL from misleading students.

But Mike Sullivan, the attorney for the Thomas Jefferson School of Law, said Alaburda did not suffer any damages. The attorney said Alaburda went to TJSL because it was the only law school where she got accepted.

Once there, the plaintiff was awarded a $20,000 scholarship to help with tuition, making her total debt $32,000 after three years, Sullivan told the jury.

Alaburda decided not to work during her first two years of law school and within two months of graduating, had two job offers in the legal field, the attorney said.

Sullivan said the process of gathering employment data for graduates is “difficult'' and a “challenge'' for the school, but said there was “not a pattern of mistakes'' by TJSL.

In the past several years, at least 15 lawsuits have sought to hold various law schools accountable for publicly listing information that critics say was used to inflate alumni job numbers, but only one other lawsuit besides Alaburda's remains active, according to published reports.

Judges in other states have ruled that law students opted for law school at their own peril, and should have known that employment as an attorney was not guaranteed.