American Bar Association plans to remove Arizona Summit Law School’s accreditation

A private Phoenix law school told its students and faculty by email late Friday that the American Bar Association plans to pull the school’s accreditation.

The decision, which is subject to appeal, means that Arizona Summit Law School cannot accept new students and must put together a plan to ensure current students are able to complete their law degrees and take the Bar exam.

The law school has been on probation by the ABA since March 2017 and a notice published on the ABA’s website Friday said that after a review in May, the ABA finds the school is still out of compliance with ABA standards for program rigor and academic support.

Don Lively, the school’s president and founder, confirmed that the school will be putting together a “teach out” plan, as required by the ABA, to ensure current students can get their law degrees.

The school has 30 days to appeal the decision, and Lively said the school intends to appeal. During this time, the school remains accredited.

“We have done exactly what the ABA asked us to do: increased admission standards, revamped curriculum to ensure rigor and fortified academic support,” he said.

The ABA’s decision to pull accreditation “seems unduly harsh for an institution that has performed well for most of its history, took appropriate curative action in a timely manner, and to this day remains in compliance with bar pass standards.”

Specific details on the school’s “teach out” plan for the approximately 100 current students were not yet available. The email to students Friday said that “as we gain more information, we will share it with you promptly.”

Arizona Summit is one of three for-profit law schools that recently sued the ABA in federal court, alleging the national accrediting body for law schools applies its standards “arbitrarily” while giving a pass to other schools with lower outcomes.

The lawsuit asks the court to prevent the ABA from taking actions that would jeopardize Arizona Summit’s accreditation while the lawsuit is pending.

Arizona Summit, formerly known as the Phoenix School of Law, has been in existence since 2004. The school, and two others in Florida and North Carolina, were founded by Lively and a group of investors with the goal of diversifying the legal profession, one of the least diverse professions.

The Arizona school had a 97-percent passage rate on the Arizona Bar Exam in July 2008, the highest among the state’s three law schools.

In recent years, however, the school has struggled with declining performance on the exam.

Nearly 70 percent of Arizona Summit graduates fail the Arizona Bar Exam on the first try, delaying their becoming practicing attorneys.

School officials have been encouraging some students to take the exam in New Mexico, where they say it’s easier to pass, and graduates had a 54-percent pass rate in February.

School officials said that Arizona Summit currently meets the ABA standard for bar passage because the bar association sets the standard at 75 percent passing in three of the past five years in all states where graduates take the test.

Without ABA accreditation, Arizona Summit likely wouldn’t be able to continue to operate.

Graduating from an ABA-accredited law school is a requirement to take the Bar exam in many states, such as Arizona, and most states require graduates to pass the Bar exam to become practicing attorneys.

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