Clark Moffatt, 35, says he dreamed of a career in criminal justice when he graduated from San Diego’s Thomas Jefferson School of Law in 2006.
But since graduating, he says he’s never held a job in the legal profession, or earned more than $25,000 a year. He lives in a rented mobile home and receives food stamps to provide for his wife and two children, he says.
“It’s both frustrating and, to a degree, humiliating,” Moffatt told Business Insider in a recent phone interview.
Moffatt is one of 12 former TJSL students now suing the law school, which they claim intentionally inflated postgraduation employment figures and salaries in order to lure applicants.
Four former students filed a lawsuit against the school in 2011, and Clark is one of another eight plaintiffs who filed separate suits against the school in 2014. The case filed in 2011 is scheduled to go to trial in early 2016.
The school is accused of reporting postgraduation employment figures that topped 90% in 2010 but neglecting to disclose that the figures included part-time work, such as pool cleaner and Victoria’s Secret sales clerk, the Associated Press reported this month, citing the suit and an attorney for the graduates.
“Mark Twain once said, ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.’ This case covers all three,” stated a recent filing in the case that was originally filed in 2011.
For its part, TJSL said in a court filing the year after the 2011 suit was filed that “at all times, TJSL calculated its employment statistics in full compliance with the [American Bar Association’s] reporting guidelines for law schools and the requirements of US News.”
TJSL was founded as the Western State University College of Law, a for-profit law school owned by Education Management Corporation (EDMC). TJSL became independent in 1995 and joined the Association of American Law Schools in 2008.
The cases against TJSL come amid a shaky environment for the for-profit education industry. Many for-profit schools have been accused of aggressively recruiting students with a focus on depositing their federal financial-aid checks rather than providing them with a quality education.
In November, EDMC paid $95.5 million to settle a case alleging it falsely obtained federal and state education funds. The college operated as a “high-pressure recruitment mill” and illegally paid recruiters based on how many students they enrolled, according to US Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch.
Like for-profit colleges, for-profit law schools have also faced allegations of malfeasance. Graduates of law schools filed more than a dozen proposed class-action lawsuits in 2011 and 2012 alone, according to The Wall Street Journal. These suits claimed the schools defrauded graduates into thinking employment prospects were rosier than they really were.
But judges have thrown out most of these suits, disagreeing with the premise that law students were defrauded.
In October, a Florida judge threw out a suit against Florida Coastal School of Law, saying that applicants to the school are “a sophisticated subset of education consumers, capable of sifting through data and weighing alternatives,” The Journal reported.
The original suit against TJSL stands out because it is going to trial. But a judge did deny the suit’s class-action status, meaning the four original plaintiffs can’t sue on behalf of all former TJSL graduates.
For his part, Moffatt’s story focuses on a young man who once had a seemingly promising future.
Moffatt graduated from the University of North Texas in 2003. In college, he says, he excelled academically, making the dean’s list every year and graduating with a 4.0 GPA. He was a member of the National Criminal Justice Honor Society and graduated with a bachelor’s in degree criminal justice.
“I could have had pretty much any criminal-justice profession that I wanted,” he said.
Instead of seeking work right away, he sought law schools, hoping to advance his education. Moffatt researched schools, looking at the “US News & World Report” and other sources that could give him information about law programs. He was drawn to TJSL, he said, because it recorded very high graduation rates and postgraduation employment statistics.
But he wasn’t yet sold. He was also considering attending his undergraduate alma mater as well as Baylor Law School.
(Thomas Jefferson School of Law Facebook)
TJSL set itself apart by responding to his inquiries quickly, contacting Moffatt to let him know they’d love to have him, he said. That, in addition to the sunny San Diego, California, campus and the good job statistics the school advertised, convinced him that he should attend.
He graduated in May 2006 and immediately started studying for the California bar exam, he said. He failed the bar despite studying, and he took a managerial job at GameStop, a retail video-game store. Though concerned with passing the bar, Moffatt said, he had bigger issues to worry about — like ballooning student-loan debt. He needed a job, any job, to start to pay his bills.
He took the Texas bar exam in 2007, and again he failed. He says he didn’t feel that TJSL prepared him well for the exam, a failure he attributes in part to the school’s in-house bar-preparation service.
“It’s not terribly great at preparing people for the bar exam,” he said.
TJSL would likely disagree with this statement. The school’s website indicates it has a variety of different services to help students pass the bar, including faculty members dedicated to preparing students for the bar, and pre- and postgraduation preparation courses.
In any event, Moffatt’s inability to pass the bar likely affected his employment prospects and, by extension, his ability to pay off his debt.
Moffatt graduated from college in a virtually unknown position these days — that is, with no student-loan debt. While he won scholarship money to pay for undergrad, Moffatt took out $120,000 in student loans to finance law school. (Tuition at TJSL is $46,000 a year, and law school typically lasts three years.)
Unable to pay down his loan on his salary, Moffatt owes more than $170,000 because of accruing interest.
Having not passed the bar exam, Moffatt says he started looking for any job even tangentially related to his law degree.
“One of the things they say about a law degree is that it’s universal,” Moffatt said. “Everyone needs people with legal education. Whether it is for paralegal work or investigations.”
With that in mind, he went in numerous directions, applying for jobs everywhere from financial institutions to community colleges.
“Oftentimes, I wouldn’t even get a call back,” he said. “A TJSL degree is not really that highly attractive to employers, I guess.”
To date, Moffatt has never held a job in the legal profession. He’s the primary caregiver for his children as his wife is terminally ill with cancer and does not have the ability to care from them.
“Currently I’m a driver for Uber full time,” he said. Moffatt, like some other Uber drivers, struggles to make ends meet.
He says he entered a workforce training program to help with his employment search, but feels discouraged with his prospects since he’s been out of the proper labor force for so long.
But after talking to friend and other graduates of TJSL, he no longer only blames himself for his predicament.
“For the longest time, I just thought I was unlucky — life had dealt me a crap hand postgraduation,” he said. “I came to the realization maybe I wasn’t just unlucky. Maybe there was something bigger afoot.”
Business Insider reached out to the Thomas Jefferson School of Law, which declined to give a comment during ongoing litigation.
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