John Marshall Law School, Atlanta John Marshall Law School, Atlanta

The dean of Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School says the school has been exploring “a number of creative alternatives” to help comply with American Bar Association rules governing admissions standards.

The for-profit school is among 10 nationwide that the ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar has publicly disciplined since August 2016 for enrolling students it says are not likely to graduate and pass the bar. The sanctions range from letters of noncompliance—one of which John Marshall received in October—to censure to probation.

John Marshall Dean Malcolm Morris said the sanctions are due to the school’s first-time taker bar-pass rate, which Morris acknowledged needs to improve. The rate for the July 2017 exam was 51.7 percent, down from 64.3 percent on the July 2012 exam, according to the state Office of Bar Admissions.

“The challenge is how to achieve [pass-rate improvement] in a manner consistent with preserving our historic mission,” Morris said in an e-mail. “There is not an easy way to balance these two important objectives. … Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School has a long-standing commitment to serving the legal needs of our community, and will take the necessary measures to ensure it continues to do so.”

The ABA accreditation committee concluded that John Marshall is “significantly out of compliance” with the accreditation requirements that schools “maintain sound admissions policies” and not “admit an applicant who does not appear capable of satisfactorily completing its program of legal education and being admitted to the bar.”

The ABA posted the letter of noncompliance on its website Oct. 12, after the committee considered the matter at its September meeting.

The council also concluded that John Marshall is out of compliance with the requirements that schools “maintain a rigorous program of legal education that prepares its students, upon graduation, for admission to the bar and for effective, ethical, and responsible participation as members of the legal profession” and “provide academic support designed to afford students a reasonable opportunity to complete the program of legal education, graduate and become members of the legal profession.”

John Marshall must submit a report to the committee by Feb. 1 and appear before it at its meeting in late June, unless the information in the written report demonstrates compliance with the standards. In that case, the committee may find the school to be in compliance and cancel the hearing. The school remains accredited by the ABA throughout this disciplinary process, according to Barry Currier, the ABA’s managing director of accreditation and legal education. He e-mailed his comments to Law.com, which is owned by the Daily Report’s parent company, ALM.

Actions like the ABA’s recent crackdown on lax admissions standards are rare. Most recently, the committee voted to place Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego on probation for its noncompliance with admission standards.

The ABA examined the schools’ Law School Admission Test scores and undergraduate grades of admitted students, bar passage rates and academic support programs when reaching its conclusions.

Currier attributed the disciplinary actions in general to widespread changes in legal education over the past seven or so years, namely the national decline of applicants. If schools were already challenged in meeting the ABA’s admissions standards in 2010, then they are even moreso today in light of the declining number and quality of applicants, he said.

“It is logical to ask these schools to demonstrate that the students who are coming into their programs have a reasonable likelihood of success with academics and on the licensing or bar exam, and that the schools have programs to maximize the students’ likelihood of success,” Currier said in the e-mail to Law.com.

“Given our current processes, some of the matters that have recently come to a head actually began some time ago as a result of changing market forces.”

The median LSAT score of John Marshall’s 2012 entering class was 150, while its median GPA was 2.99, according to ABA required disclosure forms. By 2016, the median LSAT score had slipped to 148, while the GPA crept up to 3.05.