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At 11 a.m. Monday, University of La Verne College of Law Dean Donald Dunn received the call he and the institution had been hoping for.
The fourth attempt turned out to be the charm for the College of Law when it received an American Bar Association preliminary accreditation, making it the only nationally certified law school in the Inland Empire.
“It’s a great step forward for ULV,” Dunn said. “We’re now in the big leagues with other ABA schools.”
Prior to ABA approval, the law school was recognized only by the State Bar of California, meaning ULV law students could take the bar exam and practice law only within the state.
“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.”
In September 2005, an ABA-appointed site evaluation team spent four days at the law school. This was the final round of the long process.
“If obtaining ABA approval were easy, it would not be valued,” Rubin said. “Fortunately, the University’s administration and the Board of Trustees understood this and had the vision to stay the course.”
The five-member group, which consisted of a chair and faculty members from various universities, reviewed 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 admissions criteria. In other words, they leave no stone unturned.”
These “fact finders” then wrote a more than 60-page report on their findings for a 19-member accreditation committee, which reviewed the report and met with a contingent from the College of Law and the University.
Dunn said the law school improved in all the areas necessary, including the quality of the entering class, the school’s bar passage rates and its reliable plan to bring the school in full compliance within three years.
“The previous deans Paul Egly, Charles Doskow and Kenneth Held worked to lay the foundation for the significant step – and Dean Donald Dunn, and his outstanding faculty and staff have successfully carried the effort over the finish line,” said University President Stephen Morgan.
“It has indeed been a team effort and demonstrates the success that can be achieved when vision, determination, hard work and talent come together,” he added.
It’s been a long, arduous, expensive and at times contentious process.
The College of Law failed in its attempts to obtain accreditation in 2001, 2002 and 2003, after the University pumped more than $16 million from its general fund into these previous attempts.
With this fourth attempt, the University supported the effort with an additional $6.3 million for a grand total of $22 million spent on readying the school for ABA accreditation.
Winning accreditation was not only a feat for the University, but also for the city of Ontario, which has housed the College of Law since 2001.
“The city of Ontario has been extraordinarily supportive of the process,” Dunn said.
Set in the newly renovated downtown area, the College of Law was intended to boost the city’s economy.
However the law school’s repeated failures to achieve accreditation in the past meant limited student growth and revenue for the city.
With ABA accreditation, 450 students — compared to the current 255 — are expected to enroll.
“(Ontario) sees (it) as a cornerstone of major redevelopment play,” Dunn said. “The students and employees of the law school are financial resources for the city.
“This will create a tremendous impact on the city and local businesses because there will be more people coming in and out of the city everyday,” he added.
Additionally, Dunn said the accreditation will 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 currently 1 to 840.
Dunn said due to these statistics, businesses and citizens often have to go to Los Angeles to seek legal assistance.
Many University faculty and staff are both pleased and relieved to see the law school succeed, which will add to the University’s reputation.
“I believe that the law school can now attract students from a wider geographic area and that they will be able to build upon the quality program they have demonstrated,” said College of Arts and Sciences Dean Fred Yaffe.
With this preliminary approval, the College of Law will have to consider a plan for replenishing the University’s general fund which this process nearly depleted.
“When the law school is able to contribute to the overall operating budget of the University after repayment of monies borrowed – and maintain its accreditation – I will say that the effort was truly worth it and an inspired vision by our University leadership,” said Sharon Davis, professor of sociology.
However, the law school’s future looks promising.
“This is a victory for the entire University community, and we should all come together to celebrate,” Rubin said.
“This is indeed a very significant achievement in the 115-year history of the University of La Verne,” Morgan added.
Nila Priyambodo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.