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It took years of hard work, an all-night drive, and thousands of pages of documents, but now the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law has achieved full American Bar Association accreditation. How did we reach this point? The process was expensive, intrusive, exacting, deeply distracting to the actual operation of the law school, exhausting, and insanely long. Worse, our school had to go through the entire process twice, first as the District of Columbia School of Law (DCSL) and then as the University of the District of Columbia School of Law. This is not recommended. My advice? Never start a public law school during a fiscal crisis! But we did succeed. To what can we attribute our success? We were able to persevere principally because of our unique mission: “to provide legal educational opportunity to members of groups underrepresented at the bar, and to train them through a program of clinical legal education designed to provide access to justice to the District’s low-income residents.” The transcendent importance of this mission is what enabled deeply committed faculty and university and District leaders to weather a series of storms that would have sunk a much stronger, larger, better-financed ship with a lesser goal. Despite the long journey, UDC-DCSL has succeeded in this mission. Ours is the most diverse school in the nation. Fifty-five percent of our students are people of color, and 61 percent are women. Their average age is 27. A full 98 percent are eligible for federal financial aid, and many are among the first in their families to complete college. And last year alone, largely in two required 350-hour clinics, students and faculty provided more than 70,000 hours of legal services to some of the District of Columbia’s most vulnerable residents — men, women, and children with AIDS; kids with special education needs; tenants fighting illegal rent increases or to purchase their own buildings; small businesses; immigrants; seniors; and government whistle-blowers fired for exposing fraud, waste, and mismanagement. The knowledge that all this was indeed possible is what kept us charging forward. THE STANDARDS The accreditation process begins when a law school reviews and remains undaunted by the 144-page ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools. The standards focus on facilities, library and information resources, admissions and student services, faculty, program of legal education, and organization and administration — which includes adequacy of resources. The school must apply for provisional accreditation, which must be accompanied by completed site evaluation and annual questionnaires, a self-study, three years of financial operating statements and balance sheets, a feasibility study, other documents, and, of course, a hefty fee. In addition, the dean must certify that the school is in substantial compliance with all accreditation standards and has a reliable plan for coming into full compliance within three years of the provisional accreditation. Under the extraordinary leadership of our founding dean, William Robinson, our initial application was filed on Sept. 15, 1989. It was 2,000 pages long. Next, the ABA consultant on legal education sends a seven-person site-evaluation team in for a three-day inspection. Team members sit in on all classes and review exams, syllabuses, curriculum requirements, admissions files, budgets, and faculty committee meeting minutes. The team librarian spends three days evaluating the library collection, staffing, and services. The team meets with students, faculty, staff, alumni, university and D.C. government officials, and members of the bench and bar. The team prepares an exhaustive report, and the school offers corrections and clarifications. This report, with the school’s comments, is then considered by the ABA’s Accreditation Committee. The committee makes findings of fact and draws conclusions about the school’s compliance with accreditation standards; these conclusions are issued to the school in an action letter. The school may be directed to address particular concerns. Provisional accreditation may be sought only after the school has operated its academic program for one year. Without provisional accreditation, students may not access federal financial aid, nor can graduates take bar exams. The school earned provisional accreditation during the spring of 1991 — right on time for its first graduating class. The downside of provisional status is that every year the ABA requires completion of a full self-study — typically a 100- to 150-page examination of every aspect of the school’s operation — an annual questionnaire, a site-evaluation questionnaire, and a full site visit. The law school pays the ABA fee as well as the costs to fly the seven inspectors in from across the country and to house and feed them. The upside is that the school must regularly reflect on the efficacy of its curriculum, methodologies, and administrative program, which certainly benefits students and clients alike. Another upside, come to think of it, is that every year all faculty and staff members clean their offices at least once. (I already miss that!) By 1994, DCSL had come into full compliance with all accreditation standards except for the requirement of a permanent building. D.C. Council Chairman David A. Clarke added $1 million to our operating budget for a lease purchase agreement that would have satisfied the ABA. Unfortunately, this plan was developed just as the $722 million D.C. government deficit came to light. By late 1995, driven by financial exigencies, the School of Law moved from a leased Metro Center building to the UDC campus. It formally merged with the university in 1996, triggering a new accreditation process. These were stormy days for the school. UDC’s budget was decreased by $18.6 million, and the law school’s budget was cut in half — resulting in the laying off of 24 of 63 staff members and a doubling of tuition. There was neither a working elevator on campus nor a cleaning contract. While many extraordinarily committed students attended and stayed the course, the applicant pool plummeted and the transfer rate soared. Consequently, over time, the bar passage rate dropped dramatically. In August 1997, the ABA Accreditation Committee rejected our request for provisional accreditation, primarily because of insufficient resources. Although some 86 students had made seat deposits, just 41 enrolled. Dean Robinson and the school team went into overdrive to prepare an appeal of the accreditation committee decision to the Council of the ABA Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. At the dean’s request, the D.C. Council agreed to earmark sufficient funds for the law school within the university’s budget. The university designated adequate space in the nicest building on campus. Private funders pledged nearly $600,000 to augment the budget. A team of students rented a van and drove all night through a snowstorm to appear at the ABA Council hearing in Nashville, Tenn. Miraculously, on the eve of the hearing, the District of Columbia announced its first balanced budget in years. The ABA Council took a chance and voted to approve provisional accreditation on Feb. 3, 1998. There were heavy seas still to come. After 10 years at the helm, Dean Robinson stepped down, and I became interim and then full dean. For two years the university was unable to keep its funding pledges to the ABA, and we did not purchase a book for the law library for nearly that long. The ABA issued a show cause order citing nine areas with which the law school was out of compliance, including inadequate funding, insufficient staffing, and low bar passage rate. Once again, the staff rose to the challenge. We crafted a plan calling for improving academic credentials for entering classes annually, adequate budgets with 5 percent annual increases, improved facilities — including a state-of-the-art law library and technology — and increased private fund raising. Then-UDC President Julius Nimmons approved the plan, much of which was phased in and funded over three years. Small classes of students were admitted with stronger academic credentials. The law school’s first endowed chair, the Joseph L. Rauh Jr. Chair of Public Interest Law, was established. The new Charles N. and Hilda H.M. Mason Law Library was dedicated in 2004. The first endowed scholarship for a D.C. resident is complete, and two others are well along the way. Alumni donations rose continuously to 19 percent participation, far exceeding the 14 percent national average. The student body now includes graduates of historically black colleges such as Howard, UDC, and Hampton, as well as the University of California, Yale, Princeton, and Cornell. The applicant pool has surged from 330 in 2000 to 1,366 this year, with commensurate increases in LSAT scores and GPAs. As a result, the bar passage rate has increased by 10 percent in each of the past two years. Seventy percent of the graduates have now passed one or more bar exams. What does full accreditation mean to us? On one level it is a vindication of the more than 30 years of visionary work by faculty, students, and staff begun by Jean and Edgar Cahn with the founding of the Antioch School of Law in 1972. It is also a testament to the leadership of the D.C. Council, Mayor Anthony Williams, UDC’s board of trustees, and its president, William Pollard. But most important, it means we can redirect our time and attention to the next chapter, when we put up a new building, start part-time and joint degree programs, and broaden our legal services to those most in need. UDC-DCSL graduates already permeate local courthouses, the legislature, and government agencies, as well as the legal services, civil rights, civil liberties, and other organizations dedicated to serving those who cannot afford a lawyer and would otherwise be denied access to justice. We hope that, in time, our graduates — grounded as they are in the realities of how our legal system works, and often does not work, for poor people in America — will both provide direct representation for hundreds of thousands and work for changes that result in quality legal representation for all Washingtonians.
Shelley Broderick is dean of the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law.

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