The ABA’s accreditation committee told La Verne administrators last week that it will recommend against full accreditation when the Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar meets next month in Salt Lake City.
Law school administrators have not yet been told the reason, but it likely has to do with the school’s bar passage rate, said Dean Allen Easley.
The school’s bar passage rate was a sticking point for the council last year. The accreditation committee recommended that La Verne receive full accreditation in 2010, but the council — which has the final say — extended the school’s provisional accreditation for one year in order to gather more information about bar passage rates, admission decisions and related academic support.
In 2009, 34% of La Verne students passed the California bar examination on the first try, although 73% of those students have since passed the test, Easley said. In 2010, the school’s first-time bar passage rate bumped up to 53%.
The ABA requires a school’s first-time bar passage rate be no more than 15% below that of other accredited law schools in the same jurisdiction each year.
“Given that the accreditation committee gave us a positive recommendation in 2010, and given that our bar passage rates improved significantly, it was a surprise that they are recommending against accreditation this year,” Easley said. “We thought everything was moving in the right direction.”
Members of the accreditation committee visited the campus in Ontario, Calif., during the fall, and administrators appeared before the committee in late April. It’s possible, but unlikely, that the council will grant the school full accreditation against the committee’s recommendation, Easley said.
“Students are upset, and understandably so,” he said. “ABA accreditation is like the Good Housekeeping stamp of approval. Their view is that they started at an ABA school, and they expected to graduate from an ABA school.”
La Verne enjoyed accreditation from the Committee of Bar Examiners of the State Bar of California for three decades before it obtained provisional ABA accreditation in 2006. The California accreditation allowed graduates to sit only for the California bar exam, but the provisional ABA accreditation allows graduates to sit for bar exams in any state.
Should the school lose its provisional ABA accreditation this summer, it will work to regain the California accreditation as quickly as possible, Easley said. That will create headaches for out-of-state students who never intended to practice in California, however.
Easley said La Verne administrators will attend the council meeting next month to address any questions the committee raises.
“We think we’ve been ready for full approval since last year,” he said. “In my mind, the question mark is not will we get approval, but when we get full approval.”
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