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Two days after receiving word that the American Bar Association had denied it provisional accreditation, the Lincoln Memorial University Duncan School of Law on Dec. 22 filed a federal lawsuit against the organization. The suit claims the ABA “arbitrarily and capriciously denied” accreditation to the law school and violated antitrust laws in the process. According to the suit, and to statements made by Duncan Law Dean Sydney Beckman to The National Law Journal on Dec. 20, the ABA’S Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar cited Duncan students’ average Law School Admission Test scores as among its reasons for the denial. According to the suit, the first admitted class had a median LSAT score of 149, while the next two classes had a median rates of 147. However, eight accredited law schools have lower average scores, according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee. “The only reasonable inference from this disparate treatment is that the ABA desires to restrain trade,” the complaint asserts. Through a spokeswoman, the ABA’s Council of Legal Education declined to comment. Duncan administrators were informed on Oct. 12 that the accreditation committee — which conducts site visits, reviews records and advises the full council — would recommend denial of provisional accreditation. Duncan officials attended a council meeting in Puerto Rico on Dec. 2 to plead their case, but to no avail. According to the suit, the council found problems with the law school’s compliance with three standards: one pertaining to strategic planning, one to academic standards and achievement, and one that says: “A law school shall not admit applicants who do not appear capable of satisfactorily completing its educational program and being admitted to the bar.” That last standard refers to undergraduate grade point averages and LSAT scores, which apparently have become a sticking point between the two parties. The ABA does not set minimum average LSAT scores for incoming students, but requires that schools ensure their students are capable of completing their programs. It reviews their attrition rates, bar passage rates and academic support programs. Duncan opened in 2009 and has yet to graduate a class. The school’s complaint notes that the Tennessee Board of Law Examiners and the Southern Association of College and School-Commission on Colleges have given it their blessing, while applying standards similar to the ABA’s. “In short, [Duncan] has been the victim of a group boycott orchestrated by defendant ABA in concert with these interested accredited law schools, to the detriment of [Duncan], its students, and the public at large,” the complaint reads. “Defendant ABA’s actions also constitute an intentional misuse of its dominant market power as the gatekeeper for accreditation of law schools and the benefits that accompany that status.” Duncan seeks a permanent injunction requiring the ABA to grant it provisional accreditation, damages in excess of $1 million and attorney fees. This is not the first time the ABA has been sued after denying accreditation to a law school. The Massachusetts School of Law filed a series of suits against the ABA during the mid-1990s after it failed to win accreditation, claiming antitrust violations and other wrongdoing. The suit forced reforms of the accreditation progress, although the law school remains unaccredited by the ABA and does not require applicants to take the LSAT. Contact Karen Sloan at ksloan[email protected].

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