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EXPERT AVAILABLE: Misleading Law School Marketing Should Be Punished, MU Expert Says

MU Expert argues the American Bar Association should use power to prevent deceitful practices

January 16th, 2013

Story Contact: Nathan Hurst, 573-882-6217, hurstn@missouri.edu

The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the University’s official stance.

In recent years, several law schools around the country have come under fire for allegedly misleading prospective students through deceptive marketing techniques and numbers manipulation. Former students from some of those schools have filed lawsuits in several states, arguing that they were purposefully misled by the schools about post-graduation employment rates, among other data. Regardless of whether these marketing practices can be addressed in civil lawsuits, Ben Trachtenberg, an associate professor at the University of Missouri School of Law, believes that there are ways that offending law school administrators can be punished for their deceit.

In an article forthcoming in the Nebraska Law Review, Trachtenberg argues that state bars can and should use pre-existing ethical guidelines to prohibit deceitful marketing behavior, and the American Bar Association (ABA) can use existing accreditation standards to require honest marketing.

Lawyers have many ethical guidelines they must follow,” Trachtenberg said. “This includes a rule against dishonesty, misrepresentation, and deceit. This rule applies to all actions performed by lawyers, even those outside of a courtroom, and lawyers can be disciplined or even disbarred if they are found to be deceitful.”

Trachtenberg says that the ABA should more vigorously apply accreditation rules mandating that law schools provide robust, honest consumer information to prospective students.

“Many administrators in law schools around the country are lawyers,” Trachtenberg said. “It would be embarrassing, and perhaps damaging to the reputation of a law school, if its administrators were publicly disciplined or even disbarred for deceitful marketing practices. Even the threat of punitive action by a state bar may be enough to make many law school administrators think twice about how they recruit students to their schools.”

Trachtenberg says that lawyers with personal knowledge of these ethical violations should report offending lawyers to appropriate authorities. He believes lawyers should work to safeguard the integrity of the profession by treating misleading law school marketing with the seriousness it deserves.

Ben Trachtenberg is an associate professor at the University of Missouri School of Law, where he teaches evidence, criminal procedure, and professional responsibility. He previously taught criminal law and environmental law at Brooklyn Law School.  He is a member of the New York bar.

To view Trachtenberg’s paper, visit: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2192694.

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