TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Monday, December 3, 2018

Beset by Problems, Thomas Jefferson Law School Tries To Avoid A Death Blow

Thomas Jefferson Logo (2015)Voice of San Diego, Beset by Problems, Thomas Jefferson Law School Is Trying to Avoid a Death Blow:

The school has dramatically downsized its campus and taken on far smaller incoming classes as part of its effort to prevent the loss of its national accreditation.

Thomas Jefferson School of Law has been in near-constant turmoil since taking on significant debt to build a new $90 million facility in the East Village amid the financial recession last decade.

Paying off the bonds for the upscale building during a period when consumer interest in law school precipitously dropped proved difficult, resulting in persistent financial woes.

Just 32 percent of the school’s graduates landed jobs in those two categories by the 10-month mark after graduation, according to ABA figures. At the end of that same time period, 51 of the school’s 174 graduates who sought jobs, or 29 percent, were unemployed.

The average indebtedness of Thomas Jefferson’s graduates who take on debt is also the highest in the nation among law schools, according to U.S. News & World Report. The average indebtedness for the school’s 2016 graduates was $198,962, and 91 percent graduated with debt, the publication reported. ...

Derek Muller, a professor at Pepperdine University School of Law, said the sharp drop in law school enrollment caused by the financial recession also has posed problems for schools like Thomas Jefferson.

First-year law school enrollment in California declined 29 percent between 2010 and 2017, according to Law School Transparency.

“A lot of schools began to dip deeper into the applicant pool, and that had a trickle-down effect to schools like Thomas Jefferson,” Muller said. “They struggled to find the same type of students they had enrolled in the past.”

Muller highlighted that Thomas Jefferson’s struggles have come in a climate in which other ABA-accredited law schools have closed or disclosed plans to shutter. Whittier Law School in Orange County announced last year it would be closing amid poor bar exam performance by its graduates and financial issues.

“Thomas Jefferson faces significant challenges other institutions have not been able to survive in recent years,” Muller said.

Thomas Jefferson officials have not publicly expressed any fears of closing, but whether the school’s turnaround efforts will be enough to maintain the full ABA accreditation it has held since 2001 has yet to be determined. ...

Since July 2017, the law school had been confronting its various challenges under the direction of Dean Joan Bullock, who came to San Diego after having served as an associate dean at Florida A&M University College of Law.

But last month, just a little over a year into the job, Bullock abruptly announced her resignation.

“I am resigning from the post of president and dean because I firmly believe that Thomas Jefferson School of Law is on the right path to maintain full ABA accreditation status by continuing its conservative fiscal policy while ensuring the retention of sufficient resources and its excellent personnel,” she said in a statement at the time.

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