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After seven years of struggling, John Marshall Law School is poised to join the ranks of Georgia’s accredited law schools. The American Bar Association’s accrediting body voted Saturday to grant the school provisional accreditation. It was the school’s fifth such bid since 1997. The vote by the ABA’s Council of the Section on Legal Accreditation and Bar Admission follows an Oct. 29 vote in favor of accreditation by the section’s accreditation committee. All that remains is for the ABA’s House of Delegates to ratify the vote at its mid-winter meeting in February. “It has been a very long time coming,” said Dean John E. Ryan, who took on the challenge of getting the school accredited when he became its dean 3 1/2 years ago. Ryan said he felt “relief and thankfulness that the efforts by an awful lot of people over the last three years — and before that — have been recognized and have paid off.” He gave special credit to Robert J. D’Agostino, who preceded him as dean and remains a professor at the school. “If it were not for Bob D’Agostino holding this place together in the very darkest days and keeping the doors open, this never would have happened. Dag deserves a hell of a lot of credit for it.” John Marshall’s long accreditation struggle follows an order by the Georgia Supreme Court that the school must become nationally accredited by 2008 or lose its state accreditation, which allows graduates who pass the Georgia Bar Exam to practice law in Georgia. The Supreme Court had extended the deadline three times since issuing the order in 1988. Without state accreditation, the school would have to close, since its graduates would not be able to practice law. The city’s two other non-accredited law schools, Woodrow Wilson College of Law and Atlanta Law School have closed since the Supreme Court’s edict. For practical purposes, the ABA makes no distinction between provisional and full approval, said John A. Sebert, the ABA’s consultant on legal education. Provisional accreditation means that John Marshall’s future graduates will be eligible to practice law in any state, provided they pass the bar exam. It also gives them access to federally funded education loans, which are available only to students enrolled in ABA-accredited law schools. Schools with provisional approval receive more oversight from the ABA and can apply for full approval in the third year of provisional approval. “This place is for real,” Ryan said, noting that accreditation, pending concurrence by the ABA’s House of Delegates, will mean the school has satisfied the court order. “I hope that it means to the court and to the community that we have established our credibility, our legitimacy and our quality. “This is going to benefit students. It should give them a new sense of pride and worth,” he added. Ryan said accreditation would not raise expectations for student performance — because he already ratcheted up those expectations when he became dean. He said the school would continue to “demand excellence in terms of student performance.” Sebert declined to say whether the school’s much-improved bar pass rate had been a factor in the council’s accreditation decision. All the council’s deliberations are confidential, he said. The school’s bar pass results from the July bar exam were 72 percent for first-time test takers and 81 percent for new graduates. One year earlier, 43 percent of the school’s first-time test-takers passed the bar, and only 27 percent passed the year before that. Georgia’s four accredited law schools averaged a 93 percent pass rate for the July exam.

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