A few students sit in the library of the La Verne College of Law at a table that is covered with open books and notes. They are studying, they say, like they always do between classes.
The students study in an eerie silence that remains unbroken; they are the only ones in the library that was once packed with students making the most of free time.
This emptiness is not unexpected; the College of Law lost its provisional accreditation from the American Bar Association in July. Although it has since been granted accreditation by the California Bar Association as a temporary fix, a mass exodus of more than one third of its student body occurred once the news broke.
Even though many students chose to transfer, some students remain behind because they have faith in their school.
One such student is Stefanie Reyes, who graduated from the University of La Verne last spring and is now in her first year at the College of Law.
“I was kind of disillusioned when I heard about us losing ABA accreditation over the summer,” Reyes said. “But it didn’t change my mind. Yet it’s nerve wracking not knowing what will happen. But my reasons for coming here outweighed the uncertainty of the school’s accreditation.”
Reyes, who sat in on classes in the summer to gain an idea of what the school is like, ultimately fell in love with the sense of community that was also present at the University of La Verne main campus.
Her appreciation for this close-knit feeling was coupled with a desire to be a part of a greater good at the College of Law.
“I have a sense of loyalty to La Verne, so I felt it was a privilege to be able to come in and be a part of this process,” Reyes said. “It would be amazing to get to tell people that I was part of the group of students who worked hard to help the college regain ABA accreditation. There’s immense pride in that.”
Fellow first-year law student Stephanie Schmidt did not second guess her decision to attend the La Verne College of Law for similar reasons.
“I got into a lot of other great schools, like Chapman, USC and Loyola,” Schmidt said. “Honestly, I chose La Verne because I knew I’d receive a more specialized education like I did in my undergrad at the main campus.”
Like Reyes, Schmidt is optimistic about the college’s future.
“I think we’re going to get our ABA accreditation back,” Schmidt said. “Since I’m a first-year student, coming here after the school lost accreditation was a chance I was willing to take. I’m not too concerned about the situation yet, because I’m very positive that we’ll get it back.”
However, Schmidt admitted that she would consider transferring if the College of Law does not regain ABA accreditation in the next few years.
Reyes sees the accreditation predicament in an entirely different light, and has not made a definite decision about whether she would transfer.
“Transferring is definitely something to think about, but I feel like my decisions were made for a reason, so regardless of what happens, I was meant to be here,” Reyes said.
“If you try hard enough and have enough heart, I feel like graduating from a school that isn’t ABA accredited won’t be a deal breaker,” Reyes added. “I may have to try harder than students who do graduate from those schools, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Having everything handed to me on a silver platter because I went to some prestigious school wouldn’t be as much of a challenge and give me this experience.”
Even though Schmidt would consider leaving, she also believes that the accreditation issue will not determine her future as a lawyer.
“Just because I may graduate from a CBA-accredited school doesn’t mean I can’t practice law in another state,” Schmidt said. “I know that’s what everyone says, but I’m pretty sure I can still apply to the bar in some other states. I’m not that worried about it, since it also depends on how you market yourself.”
Reyes also agreed that the accreditation challenge is a minor obstacle in her plans to become a lawyer and does not greatly concern her.
“The school doesn’t make the lawyer; the person does,” Reyes said. “I refuse to let the name of a school on my degree decide what kind of lawyer I can be.”
Both Reyes and Schmidt have noted that the class sizes are significantly smaller than previous years. Schmidt said that according to her professors, the class of 2014 is nearly half the size of previous classes.
However, Schmidt also noticed that despite the emptier classrooms, the negativity at the College of Law has been limited to a small number of upperclassmen.
“I think some of the upperclassmen are less trusting, because they felt like the accreditation was going to be a guarantee,” Schmidt said. “It seems like now most of them are trying not to get their hopes up that we’ll get it back in time, especially the students from out of state.”
Despite pessimism from a handful of students, both Schmidt and Reyes have been satisfied with their experiences so far and have noticed the College of Law has been more proactive about fixing the issues that prevented it from being ABA accredited.
Reyes noted that the school seems to be more dedicated to its students through its increased communication efforts between faculty and students.
“The school definitely didn’t sugar coat the situation we are in and has been working hard to tackle the issue head-on,” Reyes said.
Schmidt has noticed minor changes put in place at the College of Law that she says are clear efforts to help students better prepare for the California Bar exam.
The class of 2014 and all future classes of students are now required to take a bar preparatory class and must take extra prep classes that were once offered as electives. Midterms are also now strongly encouraged for every class, and students must go to academic success workshops every few weeks.
These changes coupled with student enthusiasm and dedicated professors makes Schmidt and Reyes optimistic about the future of the College of Law.
“Everyone wants the accreditation back, so we’re all working hard to help make it happen,” Schmidt said.
“This school has created a sense of camaraderie among the students that you don’t see at other law schools,” Reyes said. “We’re not looking at each other as competition, but rather helping each other out so we can do the best we can and get the school back on track. This is why I came here, and it’s why I choose to stay.”
Lauren Creiman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.