The University of La Verne College of Law has tapped a University of Baltimore law professor with experience running law schools as its next dean.

Gilbert Holmes will assume the La Verne deanship on July 1 following a rocky two years for the Ontario, Calif., school. The American Bar Association revoked La Verne’s provisional accreditation in 2011, citing concerns over its low first-time passage rate on the California bar examination. (Only 34 percent of La Verne students passed the exam on their first try in 2009, although that percentage improved to 53 in 2012.)

Losing ABA accreditation prompted some students to transfer away. Former dean Allen Easley resigned unexpectedly eight months later.

Since then, La Verne University executive vice president Philip Hawkey has served as interim dean. In addition to service as the city manager of Pasadena, Calif., Hawkey has served on several ABA accreditation site visit teams at other law schools. The law school regained its provisional ABA accreditation in March.

Holmes served as associate dean at Texas Wesleyan University School of Law before taking on the top leadership post at the University of Baltimore School of Law in 2001, which he held until 2007.

"There are a number of parallels between Texas Wesleyan and La Verne," Holmes said. "Both share similar views on access and mission. Both are relatively small schools located near large metropolitan centers"—in La Verne’s case, Los Angeles.

Texas Wesleyan was provisionally accredited by the ABA when he took over as associate dean, he noted, and he helped usher the school through the full accreditation process. La Verne has four years to secure full ABA accreditation, and meeting that deadline will be a top priority, Holmes said.

First, however, he plans to reshape school’s curriculum to better integrate legal writing into doctrinal law courses and introduce more experiential learning into the second-year curriculum. Those changes should in turn help La Verne obtain full accreditation, he said.

"This is an opportunity to develop and implement a new vision for legal education and a new model," he said. "If you make delivering a quality legal education the goal, accreditation will follow."

Holmes noted that La Verne has put more resources into preparing students for the bar exam and that is paying off with better passage rates, although the school still has ground to make up on that front.

"The task put before the search committee was to identify the best candidate who could bring vision, energy and commitment to this vital position at the College of Law," said university president Devorah Lieberman. "They have succeeded in doing just that."

The legal education climate has changed significantly since Holmes was last a dean in 2007, and he expects some hurdles.

"Student recruitment is definitely a big challenge, and implementing a new model of legal education will be difficult as well," he said. "Most law faculties have some level of resistance to trying new things."

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