The University of La Verne College of Law is currently awaiting an American Bar Association accreditation. If granted, this will end a four-year losing streak for the law school and will bring hope of attracting more law students from throughout the nation.
Although the State Bar of California recognizes the law school, ULV law students can only take the bar exam within California, limiting their market potential.
“ABA approval allows students to sit for the bar exam in any state,” College of Law Associate Dean H. Randall Rubin said. “Therefore, potential students from other states, and some countries such as Canada, can attend the College of Law, return to their home state after graduation and sit for the bar exam.”
On average, the College of Law receives around 600 applications a year.
Although 35 percent are from out of state and some even from Canadian provinces, the majority of applicants are from California.
“The law school should expect to double the number of applications to its program if it follows the trend of other law schools who have received provisional approval,” Assistant Dean of Admissions Alexis Thompson said.
“We anticipate (an ABA accreditation) will have a significant impact.”
The city of Ontario, which has invested in the law school, is also crossing its fingers for an ABA accreditation.
Set in the newly renovated downtown area since 2001, the College of Law was intended to boost for the city’s economy.
However due to the failure to obtain an accreditation, the College of Law has brought limited student growth and revenue.
“(Ontario) sees (it) as a cornerstone of major redevelopment play,” College of Law Dean Donald Dunn said. “The students and employees of the law school are financial resources for the city.
“Many of the students, being older, have families and need housing. If enrollment reaches 400 or more, the school will have major economic impact,” he added.
In September an ABA-appointed site evaluation team spent four days at the law school.
The five-member group, which consisted of a chair and faculty members from various universities, received the College of Law self study document and developmental strategic plan beforehand, and then toured the campus to verify the information.
“During their visit, they attend classes, interview faculty members and conduct an open meeting with the student body,” Dunn said. “They also tour the facilities and examine the teaching quality and admission’s criteria. In other words, they leave no stone unturned.”
These “fact finders” will then write a 60 to 80 page report stating their findings to a 19-member accreditation committee.
That committee then reviews the team’s findings and holds a meeting with a contingent from the College of Law and the University.
Dunn said that this meeting is scheduled for either Jan. 19 or Jan. 20.
The committee will then vote within a few days of the meeting, and the law school will receive an “action letter,” which states the Accreditation Committee’s decision.
The action then goes to a second 19-member ABA council, which can either affirm or reverse the previous committee’s decision. In February, representatives from the College of Law and the University would once again meet to answer questions.
The Rules Committee of ABA, which only meets twice a year in February and August, will then decide whether or not to grant approval.
“We are hoping the school gets on the agenda this February,” Dunn said.
“This step is just a simple ratification of the other two committees, like an endorsement.”
The accreditation process has been all too familiar for the University law school.
They failed to obtain accreditation in 2001, 2002 and 2003, even after the University spent more than $16 million to get accreditation in those years.
With this fourth attempt, the University will support the effort again with $6.3 million, Morgan said.
Treasurer Avo Kechichian said that the $6.3 million will go toward paying for various operations for the College of Law, including faculty and staff salaries, benefits to student financial aid, supplies, services and occupancy.
With this year’s amount, the University will have spent more than $22 million on the law school, Kechichian said.
Morgan said that a portion of the $6.3 million – $2.5 million – will come from the “quasi-endowment,” an independent funding source composed of gifts and year-end donations, designated by the Board of Trustees for programs expected to eventually make significant financial contributions back to ?the University.
The University’s Board of Trustees approved the use of the quasi-endowment to support the College of Law ABA initiative in 2001 with a total budget of $10.1 million.
“The College of Law has used $8.9 million of the $10.1 million approved quasi-endowment budget in the last four years,” Kechichian said.
With this year’s budget, the law school will have used $11.4 million from the quasi-endowment, $1.3 million more than the original approved budget.
“The Board of Trustees has approved a continuous subsidy for the College of Law,” Morgan said. “They knew that when they first approved the budget that it would be inaccurate and that it would have to be determined on a year-to-year basis.”
According to the American Bar Association, the College of Law demonstrated three major setbacks in the past, which the law school has now remedied, Dunn said.
The first obstacle was the ABA’s concern about the “quality” of the entering class two years ago.
However Dunn said the law school corrected this problem by increasing the bottom of the entering class three full LSAT points.
Second, the ABA expressed concern about the law school bar passage rate. Before October 2003, the law school’s bar pass performances were under the state average.
Since then the result of three bar exams released displayed that the law school outperformed ABA accredited law schools in the state. The College of Law’s current pass rate is 66.7 percent.
The third problem the law school previously faced was that ABA questioned the College of Law’s “reliable plan” to bring the school in full compliance within three years.
To remedy this problem, the College of Law wrote the 40-page strategic plan, which answers questions ranging from financial aid to the quality of the student body.
“Under Dean Donald Dunn's stewardship, the College of Law has systematically addressed all the concerns expressed by the ABA in the past five years,” Rubin said.
Dunn expressed that an ABA accreditation would ultimately impact the Inland Empire, one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the United States.
The ratio of lawyers to citizens in Los Angeles County is 1 to 203.
However, in the Inland Empire, the ratio is 1 to 840.
Dunn said due to these statistics, businesses and citizens often have to go to Los Angeles to seek legal assistance.
“An ABA accreditation would be paramount,” Dunn said.
“In three to four years, I hope the enrollment increases to 400 students, which would be a significant improvement in the Inland Empire,” he added.
Tracy Spicer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nila Priyambodo can be reached at npriyambodo@ ulv.edu.