Whittier Law School has lost a court decision in an attempt to revoke its probationary status with the ABA, which in recent years has faced several court challenges concerning its accreditation procedures. The law school, based in Costa Mesa, Calif., claims in its lawsuit that the ABA's probation violates its due process rights and has placed the school at the "precipice of ruin."
The ABA, which fully accredited Whittier Law School in 1985, placed the school on probation nearly two years ago for failing to improve its bar passage rate, or the percentage of its students who pass the California bar exam the first time. In July 2006, Whittier's bar passage rate was 59%. The average bar passage rate for all California ABA-approved law schools was 74%.
In response, Whittier claims that the ABA's evaluation of bar passage rates has been based on requirements that aren't disclosed to law schools seeking compliance. Whittier cited a recent U.S. Department of Education committee report that found similar problems in the agency's bar passage criteria. "Whittier has been placed on probation for one simple fact: The ABA has been unhappy with their bar passage rate," said Whittier's lawyer, Paul Kiesel, a partner at Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Kiesel, Boucher & Larson. "But they never told Whittier, or any other law school, what an acceptable bar passage rate is. They put Whittier on probation for not having the appropriate bar passage rate without articulating the standard that it should have been."
Because of the probation, the law school has suffered "grave harm to its financial condition and reputation," the suit says, and "faculty is diminished and demoralized," according to the suit.
The school could lose its accreditation as early as August. In February 2006, Whittier had reduced its admissions from 220 full-time students to 160. Kiesel said the probation's damage to Whittier is worse than usual because the school has made significant changes, such as improving its bar passage 28 percentage points since being placed on probation