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John Marshall Law School’s commencement Friday was the first in its 72-year history as a nationally accredited law school. And, it marked the graduation of the first crop of night students — 4Ls — under the tutelage of Dean John E. Ryan, who was hired in 2001 to get the school accredited. The commencement, at the Woodruff Arts Center, just as it was last year. But this year the ceremony moved to Symphony Hall, which, at 1,750 seats, is four times larger than the Rich Auditorium, last year’s venue. This year there were 50 graduates, up from 26 last year. The American Bar Association gave the privately owned, for-profit law school a long-awaited Valentine on Feb. 14 when it voted to accredit it. “There is absolutely a need” for another accredited law school in Atlanta — particularly one offering a night program — said Dr. Michael C. Markovitz, the school’s owner, pointing to the dramatic increase in applications for next fall, even before the school’s accreditation was final. John Marshall has received 729 applications to date, compared to 277 at this time last year. In response to the surge in demand, the school will increase the size of its entering class from 70 to 140 students. This is a far cry from the decimated school that Ryan found when he arrived in June 2001 with the charge from Markovitz, whose company the Argosy Education Group, took over the school’s management in fall 1999, to “get the school whipped into shape.” At that point the student body had dwindled to less than 100. There’s plenty of room in the market for John Marshall’s kind of legal education, Markovitz said. Sixty percent of its students are part-time and it’s been a magnet for so-called nontraditional students, whose average age is 35. Since they are older, often with families and mortgages, many would find it impossible to attend school full-time. “It’s the only way for a working stiff to get the degree,” said John Edmonson, 36, a 4L with a wife and three children, who graduates today. Until recently, Edmonson worked days as a warrant officer for the Fulton County Magistrate Court. Edmonson said he did not even apply to Georgia State, which offers the only other part-time law program in the state. In-state tuition at GSU is only $5,200 compared to about $19,000 for John Marshall, but the night schedule there was too limited, he said, and competition was stiff. WHO IS DR. MARKOVITZ? John Marshall is one of just three for-profit law schools in the United States accredited by the ABA, said its consultant on legal education, John Sebert. Of those, it’s the only one owned by an individual. The owner, Markovitz, started his first professional school in 1975 — right after receiving a Ph.D in clinical psychology from the University of Chicago. Over the next 25 years he expanded that school, which offered a graduate degree in psychology, into a chain of 28 professional schools that he dubbed Argosy University. Markovitz said he christened his educational empire Argosy, which means a fleet of ships, because he saw it as an adventure — akin to the sailing adventure that Jason and his Argonauts embarked on in ancient Greece. Instead of a golden fleece, his schools’ students receive a golden sheepskin — a graduate degree that opens the door to a rewarding profession. “It’s been a wonderful opportunity for me to impact the future lives and careers of thousands of people who are now practicing professions, earning a living, paying a mortgage and putting their kids through school because of my efforts,” Markovitz said. In fall 1999, Robert D’Agostino, at that time John Marshall’s dean, made a partnership deal with Argosy in a last-ditch effort to save the beleaguered school, which had been told by the Georgia Supreme Court that it must become nationally accredited or lose its state bar accreditation. That would have placed the school in the untenable position of producing lawyers with no way to take the bar exam. The ABA wanted a massive overhaul in the faculty, facility and curriculum before it would grant John Marshall national accreditation — and the school didn’t have the money for that kind of upgrade. Things were so bad in 1999 that one class even took up a collection to help the school. Argosy bought the school outright in 2000. At that time, Markovitz was still at the helm — but Argosy had gone from being his personal fleet of ships to a publicly traded company the previous year. He’d taken the company public in 1999, the same year he had his first child. Two years later, in 2001, he stepped down as Argosy’s CEO. Having a family changed his priorities, he said. “I didn’t want the next 25 years to resemble the last 25 — where I spent all my time traveling and on airplanes. I didn’t want my daughter to grow up just seeing the back of my head.” And so he gave up the fleet, except a Canadian school and John Marshall, which he bought back from his former company at the end of 2001 — even though John Marshall had been the leakiest ship in the fleet. “It was the only piece of unfinished business from Argosy,” he explained. Markovitz says he’s spent more than $10 million on improvements since buying the law school, which will break even with this fall’s entering class. BIG CHANGES AHEAD Ryan said the biggest changes accreditation brings for the students is that they are now eligible for federally funded student loans and can practice law outside Georgia. But as the school’s reputation improves and it becomes more selective, its demographics are changing as well. As law schools with night programs become more selective, the percentage of part-time students often falls. That’s what happened at Georgia State, where part-time enrollment declined from about two-thirds of the student body in 1982, when the school was founded, to about 20 percent at present. About 60 percent of John Marshall’s current students are part-time and Ryan sees that declining to 40 percent as more students use federal loans to enroll full-time and as more new college graduates apply. Minority enrollment, which is almost entirely African-American, has declined over Ryan’s tenure, from about 40 percent in 2001 to 25 percent now. Stephanie R. Lindsey, a 2000 graduate who is African-American, said she was disappointed that there were not as many minorities enrolled as in the past, but that she applauded Ryan for his work in reviving the school. Lindsey, who graduated in 2000, added that she hoped that success would not change the school’s character. “We already have a Georgia State, a UGA, an Emory and a Mercer. John Marshall is supposed to step outside of the box and allow more non-traditional students to come in. My prayer is that they maintain that mission.” Ryan acknowledged that as the school becomes more selective, some of the nontraditional students whom the school attracts might no longer be able to gain admission. But those who are admitted, he said, are far more likely to pass the bar and become lawyers. He cited the school’s abysmal 27 percent pass rate for the July 2001 bar exam, the last before he took over the school’s administration. “What did the people who flunked the bar get for their money?” he asked. The pass rate rose to 81 percent for 2004 graduates, the first crop of his tenure. Before Ryan’s arrival, admissions were very close to being open, he said, which meant that almost anyone who applied would be accepted. The school accepted 60 percent of applicants in 2001, Ryan’s first year as dean. For last fall’s class, it accepted only 35 percent. A ROBUST AREA MARKET There is a natural market in Atlanta for a night school, said Markovitz, adding that most of John Marshall’s students are from the metro area. “In a rapidly growing city like Atlanta, there are people who live and work in the city who are not going to relocate to another part of the country,” he said. Georgia State’s interim law school dean, Steven Kaminshine, agreed that the local market for students is robust. Last year Georgia State received a record 3,700 applications, for only about 240 spots. “There are talented applicants who have the ability to be good lawyers whom we’re not able to admit. So there is room for John Marshall Law School,” Kaminshine said. “I do not see the accreditation of another law school in a state like Georgia and a metropolitan area like Atlanta as doing anything other than generating opportunity,” he said. But John Marshall’s accredited status thrusts it into a much more competitive market, said Richard A. Matasar, the dean of New York Law School, which is similarly independent, but nonprofit, with a large number of night students. “It’s hard to imagine that Georgia State, Emory, Florida Coastal and other schools in the region are going to sit idly by and see students siphoned off,” he observed. “Finding a unique role in that environment will be a challenge for John Marshall, as it is for any law school competing for students.” Markovitz agreed, saying he wants to give students a reason to actively choose John Marshall over another accredited school, instead of enrolling there simply because it’s the only school they can get into. ‘NEED TO BE SPECIAL’ “It’s not my ambition to be just another accredited law school. We need to be special,” he said. To this end, the school needs to develop “centers of excellence,” he said. For instance, the school can offer master’s programs, now that it’s accredited. Overseas programs and a legal clinic are other possibilities. “The burden on John Marshall and all law schools is to prove and reprove that they are valuable enough to warrant the students’ expenditures,” said Matasar. Tuition at his law school is $36,000. Law schools must prove every year that they can prepare students to pass the bar and secure good jobs, he said. For John Marshall, Matasar said, that means “The adventure is just beginning.”

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