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When the Charleston School of Law opened about two years ago, its administration hoped that the school would gain provisional accreditation from the American Bar Association by this summer. That timetable would have ensured that its first set of graduating students, who will be receiving their diplomas in May 2007, would be eligible to sit for the South Carolina bar exam. It hasn’t quite worked out that way. While the American Bar Association (ABA) has not yet denied the for-profit school’s request for provisional accreditation, it has not yet granted it. Instead, it chose last month to defer its decision, according to Dean Richard Gershon. The stakes are particularly high for the Charleston, S.C., school. In South Carolina, among other states, students who graduate from unaccredited law schools are not eligible to sit for the state bar exam. Eligibility is based on the school’s status at the student’s graduation and cannot be modified retroactively. While the South Carolina Supreme Court has the power to set state bar examination procedures, it has never made an exception to this rule. The current status of the accreditation process has had an effect on the decisions of prospective students, according to John Benfield, associate dean for admissions and student services. “A fair number of students have declined to send in their second deposit, and most of them will be going to other schools,” Benfield said. According to Benfield, five to 10 students specifically mentioned that the lack of ABA approval was a factor in their decision to withhold their second deposit. In spite of that trend, however, Benfield said that they expect to have a full class of 200 students this fall, and “we expect that the new class’s credentials will be better than the last.” According to Gershon, officials at the school were startled by the outcome because of a favorable recommendation from the ABA’s accreditation committee earlier this year. “We were surprised and disappointed, but we know what the next steps are now,” he said. The ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar has posed several questions to the school, asking for more information about the school’s for-profit governance structure, library resources and diversity. Because the accreditation process is confidential, the ABA declined to comment. For-profit factor? Unlike most law schools, Charleston is a for-profit institution, which, according to Gershon, is a structure that the ABA is “not used to seeing.” The ABA began accrediting for-profit schools in 1995, and three have since been accredited. Although the school is for-profit, “the owners are not in it to make money,” Gershon said, adding that the tuition funds go toward improving the facilities and resources of the school. The school’s founders would have liked the law school to be a part of the College of Charleston, Gershon said. However, South Carolina has a law against duplicate publicly funded graduate-level education programs. The University of South Carolina has a law school. Since “raising the money to start a nonprofit would have been extremely difficult,” the school was created as a for-profit venture,” Gershon said. The school’s library may pose another hurdle. According to Gordon R. Russell, associate dean and director of the library and information services, the ABA may be concerned about Charleston’s limited collection of monograph materials. “We are in the process of putting together a document [for the ABA] that shows what we have,” he said. Russell said that although the library has only 10,000 linear feet of physical shelf space, they subscribe to all of the necessary materials electronically. Students seem to be taking the development in stride. “I think that all the academic signs point to the Charleston School of Law being an accredited school,” said third-year student John Robinson. “I would be disappointed if an exception was made for me or my peers,” Robinson said, adding that if the school were not to receive accreditation before May 2007, he would consider remaining at the school as a part-time student until it receives accreditation or, as a last resort, switch to another law school.

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