John Marshall Law School, Atlanta. (Courtesy photo: John Marshall Law School)

The American Bar Association has placed Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School on probation, apparently dissatisfied with the school’s response to a sanctions letter warning its accreditation was at risk last year.

The ABA Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar issued the probation notice Dec. 13 after a November hearing in Atlanta to determine whether additional sanctions were warranted.

The council determined the 85-year-old private law school remained in “substantial” and “persistent” noncompliance with multiple ABA accreditation standards.

Those standards are the same ones cited by the ABA in an October 2017 warning letter to John Marshall. They include requiring the law school to:

  • Maintain a “rigorous” program of legal education that prepares students for admission to the bar and for jobs in the legal profession.
  • Provide academic support that would give students “a reasonable opportunity” to graduate and secure jobs as lawyers.
  • Not admit applicants who are unlikely to complete law school or pass the bar exam.

An ABA spokesman said that details of why the council placed John Marshall on probation are confidential. John Marshall Dean Malcolm Morris did not respond to a message left with his staff or to email from the Daily Report.  But a statement posted on John Marshall’s website under a link to the ABA council decision said the school “is proud of its heritage of providing traditional and non-traditional students access to legal education.”

“Meeting this mission does not come without challenges,” the statement said. “The law school is committed to working with the American Bar Association to continue producing high quality lawyers who ensure all communities have access to legal services.”

In October, John Marshall and the Savannah Law School, a branch of the Atlanta school, reported that first-time takers of the Georgia bar exam fell below 50 percent. John Marshall’s first-time pass rate was 40.4 percent—down nearly 11 percentage points from the July 2017 state bar results. Savannah Law School’s first-time pass rate plummeted from 54.5 percent in July 2017 to 35.7 percent in July 2018.

Last March, John Marshall announced it was closing Savannah Law School, which opened in 2012. It sold the building and stopped taking new applications last spring.

The ABA’s public probation notice requires John Marshall to turn over admission data for its fall 2019 acceptances, those who actually enroll, their LSAT scores and grade point average. The school also is required to report other factors it may have used in making admission decisions and “state why it concluded that they were sufficient to overcome concerns inherent in the applicant’s academic qualifications and LSAT score.”

The law school also is required to report 2019 bar examination results of graduates who take the bar in Georgia, including the number and percentage of first-time takers and repeat takers who passed.

The ABA will appoint a fact-finder to independently review admissions data, the “overall rigor” of the law school’s legal education programs, school finances, tuition policies and projected budgets through 2021.

The council also requested the dean to appear at a hearing next May.

John Marshall was one of 10 law schools sanctioned by the ABA in the fall of 2017 as part of  heightened accreditation scrutiny of for-profit law schools whose students were incurring significant debt but repeatedly failing to pass the bar or secure a job as a lawyer after graduating.

In its October 2017 sanctions letter, the ABA required John Marshall to submit a report by Feb. 1, 2018, demonstrating that it was back in compliance with ABA accreditation standards. At the time, Morris said the sanctions sprang from the school’s first-time taker bar-pass rate which he acknowledged needed improvement.