Are law schools liable for misleading statistics?

An interesting snippet from over at the Volokh Conspiracy, where former students sued their law school for publishing misleading statistics.

The court ruled that the salary statistics published by the school were truly misleading, but in the end caveat emptor prevailed.  Apparently the schools had published average salary data, but only for those students who actually got jobs.  The court ruled that:

….even though Plaintiffs did not know the truth of how many graduates were used to calculate the average salary, at the very least, it is clear that the Employment Report has competing representations of truth. With red flags waiving and cautionary bells ringing, an ordinary prudent person would not have relied on the statistics to decide to spend $100,000 or more.

I do love legal language at times, and I was fairly amused by the phrase “competing representations of truth”. While in this case it was clear cut what information would have been most useful to the consumer, it’s often unclear what statistical breakdown represents “actual reality” and such.  I did think that perhaps the court was giving the public too much credit though, when it cited what an “ordinary prudent” person would do (or is it just that not many prudent people exist?).

I’ve been reading Tom Naughton’s blog quite a bit lately, and he often quotes his college physics professor’s advice to all of his students.  It’s a good quote, one that I think should be taught to all students freshmen year of high school.  In fact, it should have been used in this court decision:  “Learn math.  Math is how you know when they’re lying to you.”

5 thoughts on “Are law schools liable for misleading statistics?

  1. Another version of that is what your grandfather said to me numerous times as I was growing up: There are lies, damn lies and statistics.

    One of the amusing things about this whole thing is what unemployed lawyers decide to do with their time: think up novel theories of liability. When I first took the bar, the pass rate in NH was around 60-70%. That meant the second time I took the test, there were a substantial number of people with me who had been there the last time. Some had discussed suing the Board of Bar Examiners for some wrong or another that resulted in their failing the exam. I just figured I hadn't studied hard enough.

    There is nothing new under the sun. The job market was horrible when I graduated in 1981. I hadn't relied on any employment statistics in going to law school, I had simply decided it was one of the graduate degrees I was qualified for and I thought I might do OK in the profession. When there were no jobs, I made one. That was a decision I was able to make because I had not gone into debt in obtaining the degree. That decision had its ups and downs, but I didn't blame anybody when things didn't work out the way I planned. It all comes down to personal responsibility!


  2. That's a wonderful euphemism. Isn't legal language fun? If somebody is “constructively present” it means he wasn't really there (though he helped).


  3. Not even “math,” really. Just arithmetic. Though the reasoning ability of knowing what questions to ask may be related to the more abstract reasoning necessary for maths which start at the high school level.


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