The following Op-Ed piece by TJSL Alumni Appears in the May 30, 2013 edition of the Los Angeles Daily Journal's Perspective Section:
Sometimes a media narrative takes off like a bullet train flattening anything in its path, even the truth. Such is the case with an undeserved lawsuit alleging that Thomas Jefferson School of Law fabricated employment statistics to “lure” unsuspecting students to apply. Several other law schools across the nation also are similarly being sued by small numbers of dissatisfied alumni.
As proud alumni of Thomas Jefferson School of Law, we have sat on the sidelines while news reports and certain websites treated our School’s reputation like a piñata, questioned the honesty of our faculty and staff, and even challenged whether Thomas Jefferson School of Law should be allowed to exist.
Enough is enough. It’s time to put the false narratives aside and hear what dedicated and grateful TJSL alumni have to say.
First, Thomas Jefferson School of Law has consistently responded that the legal claims put forth in the pending lawsuit are untrue and unsustainable. We stand by our School. Thomas Jefferson School of Law complied with industry standards when reporting job placement data.
There was no conspiracy, as the lawsuit alleges. As even the trial court noted, the original plaintiff in the case was offered full time employment, as an attorney, within nine months of graduating from TJSL.
Similar class actions, filed by small numbers of graduates who were not able to find “legal” jobs for many reasons, including the economy, have been tossed out of court. Judges in these jurisdictions dismissed the lawsuits at the pleading stage, concluding that plaintiffs’ legal theory was not viable. The five cases against California law schools, including Thomas Jefferson School of Law, currently are still proceeding due to more generous consumer laws in California.
At its core, this case is really an attack on the method of reporting statistics in use at the time by the American Bar Association (ABA) and U.S. News & World Report – not on the unique actions by Thomas Jefferson School of Law, which provided the specific data requested and in the specific format requested of every ABA law school in the nation. Interestingly, the ABA and U.S. News & World Report last year revised the way in which employment statistics are reported. Some have condemned the new full-time job placement numbers, which analyze job placements in the legal profession a mere nine months after graduation. In California, most graduates don’t even learn that they’ve passed the bar exam until six months after graduation. As with any post-undergraduate education, a law degree is a long-term investment that does not always lead to an immediate offer of employment in the legal field. Law graduates can work in various positions, and for years, before achieving true satisfaction with their employment.
Some law school graduates leverage their advanced degree to increase their knowledge, expertise and value to employers in non-legal careers. For example, the Chief of Staff to new San Diego Mayor Bob Filner as well as the new Vice Chancellor of National University, who formerly was the President and Publisher of the San Diego Business Journal, are among the Thomas Jefferson School of Law graduates who have found success in non-legal career paths.
Since its founding in 1969, Thomas Jefferson School of Law has graduated more than 6,000 students. From the very beginning, the School has educated students from every walk of life, and especially those who could only afford to attend part-time or who didn’t have the credentials for admission to higher tier law schools. In its early years, Thomas Jefferson School of Law was an institution comprised largely of continuing education students, who worked during the day and could only attend evening classes. The school also offered an opportunity to many military veterans returning from Vietnam. Today, the school remains true to that early mission with approximately 25 percent of the student body still comprised of working professionals and active military who attend part-time.
Thomas Jefferson School of Law serves as a school of access for many students who have not historically been part of the legal profession. The School’s entering classes typically include a substantial number of students of color – about 40% in recent years -- who have been frozen out of the applicant pools of many other law schools. Other schools reserve space for students with higher LSAT median scores that will translate into higher U.S. News & World Report rankings. Among California public schools, state restrictions on affirmative action have severely limited opportunities for many underrepresented people of color to pursue a legal degree. This is particularly troubling in a state in which persons of color represent a majority of the population. We support the School’s commitment to ensuring that the legal profession should be as diverse as the population it serves.
For several years now, Thomas Jefferson School of Law has ushered a diverse class of graduates into the legal industry, most of who choose to work at smaller firms, as self-practitioners or in the public interest sector. In legal and non-legal fields, our alumni have achieved success across the nation, including the a Federal judge, the District Attorney and the Public Defender of San Diego, a former State Legislator, a former U.S. Congressman for 20+ years, the first appointed female Filipino-American judge in the U.S., several California Superior Court judges, the owner of the Houston Rockets and other sports executives, government officials, business leaders and many, many more.
To expand the opportunities for people seeking a legal education, the ABA has expanded the number of accredited schools over the years to address the growth in demand. Newer nonprofit law schools like Thomas Jefferson School of Law provide a much needed route for students who have not historically been part of the legal education system. Many students at Thomas Jefferson School of Law are the first in their families to pursue degrees of any kind: 60% of the School's students are the first to go to graduate school, and 45% are the first to attend college at all.
Meanwhile, large numbers of law schools have placed their emphasis in admissions on criteria that advance the school’s ranking and competitive position among law schools and not necessarily on the real needs of our society. The nation is evolving. Ongoing demographic changes in this country suggest now more than ever that we need attorneys from all demographic groups and income ranges.
We are tremendously proud of Thomas Jefferson School of Law and the fine legal education we received there, and hope that the media will accurately and fairly represent our School and other non-profit institutions that serve an important, often understated and under recognized need for this nation and its legal profession. The practice of law is much too important to the rights and protection of our citizens from all walks of life to confine it to the privileged classes.
Thomas Jefferson School of Law has afforded a first-class education to its graduates. President Thomas Jefferson once wrote that "Above all things, I hope the education of the common people will be attended to, convinced that on their good sense we may rely with the most security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty." We must never forget the value nonprofit institutions such as Thomas Jefferson Law School provide for our country, its populace and the legal profession at large.
PROUD ALUMNI OF THOMAS JEFFERSON SCHOOL OF LAW
Renee Galente ‘08 Phillip A. Shapiro ‘85 Randy Grossman ‘94 Doc Anthony Anderson III ‘93 Duncan Hunter ’76 (U.S. Representative, Retired) Hon. Lawrence W. Stirling ’74 (Superior Court Judge, Retired) Hon. Lillian Lim ’77 (Superior Court Judge, Retired) Hon. Gary Bloch’81 (Superior Court Commissioner, Retired) Lorena Slomanson ‘03 Susan Tinsky ‘08 Ruben Arizmendi ‘81 Sterling E. Williams ‘11 Michael Flemming ‘08 Jeremy M. Evans ‘11 Eric A. Bernsen ‘12 David C. Beavans ‘08 Amanda Thompson ‘07 Rebeca Valenzuela ‘09 Eric Ganci ‘08 Matthew Fox '07 Jon Epsten ‘82 Sherry Adler ‘93 Edward Miller ‘05 Damon M. Kress '04 Kendall DeMatteo Berkey '94 Susan Gauthier '93