The same weekend that the Council of the Section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar came down hard on the University of La Verne College of Law (see posts here and here), the Council gave full accreditation to Charlotte School of Law. Publicly available data on the two schools offers a glimpse of the challenges faced by schools in lower quintile of entering LSAT scores. More importantly, it also illustrates why California, and California-based law schools, pose such a challenge for national standards for law-school accreditation.
Let's begin with the basics. The undergraduate GPAs of the Fall 2010 entering classes at Charlotte and La Verne are almost identical. Based on the LSAT profile of those classes, La Verne clearly enrolls stronger students. La Verne's LSAT 50th percentile is the same as Charlottes 75th percentile. More importantly, La Verne's LSAT 25th percentile has climbed out of the 140's. At 150, its LSAT 25th percentile for Fall 2010 equals its LSAT 75th percentile for Fall 2006. La Verne has clearly benefited from provisional accreditation, which bodes well for future Bar passage rates.
|Fall 2010 Entering Classes|
|2009 Average Bar Passage|
|2009 Predominant Bar Passage|
Speaking of Bar passage rates, Charlotte seems much stronger than La Verne. Charlotte's first-time Bar passage rates are just below 70%, and its first-time difference score easily beats even the proposed 10% below standard. On the other hand, La Verne's Bar passage numbers are startlingly low. With a first-time difference score of 40% below, even the current 15% below benchmark seems hopelessly out of reach.
Many of you must be thinking "Something must be wrong with La Verne." Well, that's what the Section Council and this year's Accreditation Committee thought. Reportedly, last year, the Accreditation Committee recommended granting La Verne full approval, but the Section Council was concerned about its 2009 first-time Bar passage rate and difference score, and told the Accreditation Committee to take another look.
This year, La Verne was denied full approval. Under Standard 102(b), provisionally-accredited law schools have five years to get full approval. If they do not, they automatically lose provisional accreditation, unless the Council, "in an extraordinary case and for good cause shown," extends provisional accreditation beyond that. In La Verne's case, the Council chose not to extend its provisional accreditation. Reportedly, the Council thought that La Verne had not made "adequate progress" on Bar passage rates (which would have been grounds for an early withdrawal of provisional accreditation under Standard 102(b)).
Reportedly, the Accreditation Committee found that La Verne had not complied with either Standard 301 ( Interpretation 301-3) or Standard 303 (Interpretation 303-3). Standard 301(a) requires law schools to "maintain an educational program that prepares ... students for admission to the bar, and effective and responsible participation in the legal profession." Interpretation 301-3 provides that
[a]mong the factors to be considered in assessing the extent to which a law school complies with this Standard are the rigor of its academic program, including its assessment of student performance, and the bar passage rates of its graduates.
Standard 303(a) requires a law school to "have and adhere to sound academic standards," while 303(c) prohibits a law school from
... continu[ing] the enrollment of a student whose inability to do satisfactory work is sufficiently manifest so that the student’s continuation in school would inculcate false hopes, constitute economic exploitation, or detrimentally affect the education of other students.
Interpretation 303-3 requires
[a] law school shall provide the academic support necessary to assure each student a satisfactory opportunity to complete the program, graduate, and become a member of the legal profession. This obligation may require a school to create and maintain a formal academic support program.
Apparently, compliance with Standard 501 (Interpretation 501-3) regarding student credentials was not expressly mentioned. But, 501/501-3 often go hand-in-hand with the quality of a law school's academic program (301/301-3) in general, and specifically with the quality of its academic support program (303/303-3).
Standard 501(b) prohibits law schools from admitting students "who do not appear capable of satisfactorily completing its educational program and being admitted to the bar." Interpretation 501-3 indicates that
[a]mong the factors to consider in assessing compliance with Standard 501(b) are the academic and admission test credentials of the law school’s entering students, the academic attrition rate of the law school’s students, the bar passage rate of its graduates, and the effectiveness of the law school’s academic support program. (Emphasis added.)
Thus, the level of required academic support depends on entering student credentials. If a law school's academic attrition rates are too high, or its bar passage rates are too low, then its academic support will be found to be ineffective, given the academic credentials of its students.