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With potentially just two years left in Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School’s lease on life, the Georgia Supreme Court has granted five more years. On Friday, the court ruled that John Marshall students who graduate by Aug. 31, 2008, may sit for the Georgia Bar examination. Previously, the high court required the school to be at least provisionally accredited by the American Bar Association by Aug. 31, 2003, or those who graduated after that date could not take the exam. “I was pleased and relieved,” says the school’s dean, John Ryan, of getting the news from the court. Anyone who graduates from John Marshall by the new deadline still may take the bar exam after the Aug. 31, 2008, even if the ABA does not approve the school by then, says Hulett H. Askew, director of the Office of Bar Admissions. John Marshall has failed three times to gain ABA accreditation. This is its third extension from the state Supreme Court, which in 1988 gave all unaccredited Georgia law schools 10 years to get ABA approval. Two schools — Woodrow Wilson College of Law and Atlanta Law School — closed without trying to get approval. This most recent extension means John Marshall will have been given up to 20 years to get the ABA’s blessing. HOPE IN NEW DEAN Whether it succeeds this time rests largely with its new dean, Ryan, who assumed his duties full time a week ago. Ryan, who was previously a visiting law professor at the University of LaVerne in Ontario, Calif., guided the law school at Roger Williams University in Britstol, R.I., to ABA approval in 1997 and spent a dozen years on the ABA committee that oversees accreditation. He says the time extension means that instead of having to rush to reapply for another ABA inspection, the school now can take 12 months to get ready. If it meets that timeline, an ABA team could visit the school by September or October 2002. There’s a lot to be done. In the past, the ABA has indicated it didn’t grant John Marshall accreditation because the school needed a bigger library collection, more support staff and secretaries, raises in faculty pay, more faculty scholarship and writing, better finances, and higher bar pass scores. Ryan says that now the school must establish financial viability and stability. It’s being bankrolled by its owner, Chicago-based Argosy Education Group, a for-profit provider of graduate education that purchased the school in March and has invested more than $3.5 million to keep it afloat. Argosy acquired the school in exchange for assuming existing debt and liabilities of about $4.5 million. Enrollment, of course, is tied to financial viability. John Marshall now has only about 100 students, and Ryan has said he hopes eventually to reach 500 to 600. “We have enough anecdotal evidence both before and after I got here … that people were not applying because of the death penalty,” he says, referring to the prior accreditation deadline. Now, he says, the school will tap into a database of about 3,000 who’ve expressed an interest in John Marshall. Ryan says that he plans to start this week sending e-mails to those prospective students, and then hard copies of information about the school and the new 2008 deadline. The school also must increase its bar pass rate to gain ABA approval. On the most recent February exam, which occurred before Ryan’s administration began, John Marshall students’ first-time pass rate was 37 percent. The average first-time pass rate for all Georgia test-takers was 73 percent. In February 2000, John Marshall’s first-timers had a 34 percent pass rate. Ryan also says the school’s building, at 1422 West Peachtree Street in Atlanta, may need renovations. The school’s library also needs more space and structural supports for shelving and books. Despite that partial to-do list, Ryan says, “As of yet, I have not prioritized the critical needs. They’re all critical needs.” He quotes Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnets from the Portuguese” as an illustration. ” ‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,’ ” he says. “ I’m counting the ways.”

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