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Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School is undergoing a physical and academic facelift in an effort to increase enrollment and prepare for the American Bar Association accreditation team’s October visit. A prominent new sign in front of the school’s West Peachtree Street building has been commissioned, and John Marshall has started advertising on the radio. Dean John E. Ryan said all the improvements are part of an aggressive drive to attract new students. The school, which touts itself in radio advertisements as “the new John Marshall” has “a new direction, new resources and a new commitment,” said Ryan, who was appointed dean early last year. Ryan, who previously was a visiting law professor at the University of LaVerne in Ontario, Calif., guided the law school at Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I., to ABA approval in 1997 and spent a dozen years on the ABA committee that oversees accreditation. He said John Marshall is radically different from when he became dean. “We have brought a sense of coherence, discipline and structure to the academic program,” Ryan said. For one, the school has adopted a student handbook setting forth a code of student responsibility. Ryan said he’s tried to implement reasonable but high academic standards to improve students’ bar pass rates. In February, 19 of 93, or 20.4 percent, of John Marshall students and graduates passed the bar. However, of the 20 first-time test takers, nine passed for a 45 percent pass rate, the highest for first-timers since February 1999. The school’s board of directors also has adopted a faculty handbook that sets standards for retention, promotion and tenure, Ryan said. “With this internal stuff, we’re beginning to look more like a law school,” he added. John Marshall’s eight-story building on West Peachtree Street also is undergoing a $750,000 upgrade. The renovations, scheduled for completion this summer, will increase space by 25 percent. “Before, it was pretty sad, but we had to create a physical setting that was conducive to an educational enterprise and we really didn’t have facilities that did that,” Ryan said. The construction also will include a larger law library, new faculty offices, a new courtroom for mock trials and two classrooms that each accommodate about 100 students. Two private trusts extended a line of credit to fund the renovations. Though the school’s entire enrollment is 100, Ryan said he hopes the changes will expand enrollment to 400 or 500 by 2005. The ad campaign, which began in February, concentrates on the Internet and Atlanta radio stations WABE-FM (90.1), B98.5, WSB-AM (750), and WCLK-FM (91.9) during morning and evening rush hours. Ryan said the school wants to attract professionals who might want to attend law school. Last fall, the school’s admissions director visited nearly 40 colleges and universities in Georgia as part of John Marshall’s expanded recruiting effort. The recruiting efforts are designed to attract students from outside Atlanta, Ryan said. John Marshall students pay $480 per credit hour. For a full-time load of 30 hours, that’s $14,400 per year. Full-time, nonresident students at Georgia State University College of Law pay $14,880 per year; in-state students pay $3,520. Georgia State is the only law school in the state other than John Marshall to offer a part-time program. Its out-of-state part-timers pay $587 per credit hour, about $100 more than at John Marshall. In-state students pay $147. Two new faculty members have joined the staff recently, and Ryan will add three more for the upcoming academic year, he said. When he joined John Marshall last year, the school had nine faculty members. He’s also dropped the trimester system and implemented a semester routine. Ryan convinced Dennis W. Archer, president-elect nominee of the ABA and former mayor of Detroit, to speak at John Marshall’s commencement May 18. Ryan said Archer’s appearance at commencement is unconnected to the schools’s accreditation bid. Looking more like a law school could prevent the “death penalty,” Ryan said. He was referring to the Georgia Supreme Court’s Aug. 31, 2008, deadline for provisional accreditation from the ABA. If John Marshall can’t get that, those who graduate after that date would not be eligible to take the state bar exam. In recent years, the school has made three unsuccessful attempts at accreditation. But Ryan hopes the changes he’s making will help the school curry favor with the ABA. In the past, the ABA has indicated it didn’t grant accreditation because the school needed a bigger law library, more support staff and secretaries, raises in faculty pay, more faculty scholarship and writing, better finances, and higher bar pass scores.

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