After almost four decades and more than $30 million, the College of Law this month received full accreditation from the American Bar Association, making it the only nationally accredited law school in the Inland Empire.
The University received the news of its final ABA approval March 12, one day after President Devorah Lieberman, Law School Dean Gilbert Holmes and Associate Law School Dean Randy Rubin appeared before the ABA accreditation council in Phoenix.
In February, the College was “officially recommended” for accreditation from the council.
“With full approval, I think that stability is established, and that our partners in the legal community are going to be more willing to invest their time in building their relationships with the law school,” Rubin said.
“I just see us continuing to do what we’ve been doing, but to do it with greater intensity and great success.”
Rubin added that he hopes the accreditation will be the push the College of Law needs to solidify its position in the Inland Empire.
“University of La Verne College of Law’s enrollment has been on an upward trajectory the last four years, when law schools throughout the nation are suffering from decreased enrollment due to criticism about law schools’ relevance, high cost, student debt and dwindling job prospects,” said Holmes in a recent statement. “We are proud to be recognized as leading change for law schools, and even prouder that our hard work has yielded full accreditation.”
The nearly 40-year journey began in the summer of 1978 – eight years after the College of Law opened its doors – when administrators first pursued provisional ABA accreditation, which was denied the following fall semester.
Since then, the College of Law’s battle for accreditation has been a tumultuous and costly process.
The College was provisionally accredited by the ABA in March 2012, a recognition that was reinstated less than a year after it was revoked in July 2011. That revocation was a setback that cost the College nearly one-third of its student body. During that time, the College was granted accreditation from the California Bar Association but was still required to re-apply for ABA approval.
According to the ABA at the time, the revocation was primarily based on the College’s low first-time bar exam passage rate. In 2010, the College reported a 53 percent passage rate, which was a significant jump from 34 percent in 2009.
However, the ABA requires that its accredited schools not have a first-time bar passage rate that is less than 15 percent below that of other accredited law schools in the same jurisdiction.
Graduates from California Bar Association-accredited programs may practice law within the state only.
In 2013, University administrators hired Holmes with the hope that he would rehabilitate the school toward its ABA accreditation goal.
Since Holmes’ hiring, the College has seen the implementation of a “true tuition model” in 2014, which decreased full-time students’ tuition from $39,000 to $25,500 per year, and $19,000 for part-time students. There was also a significant increase in the first-time bar passage rate.
The College of Law also revamped its curriculum, adding specific courses for students at each level, including bar readiness courses for students at all levels.
Rubin said College of Law faculty members have felt pressure over the past few years to help in the accreditation process. He now senses a certain amount of relief and morale among faculty and students has improved.
Closing the College was an option had it not receive accreditation this time around.
“Closing the College of Law would have been a Board of Trustee decision,” Provost Jonathan Reed said. “I’m thankful we never had to have that discussion.”
Andrea Naccache, who is finishing her final year at the College, said that because it is the only accredited law school in the vast Inland Empire, she believes that any job in Southern California is within her reach.
“As an ABA accredited law school, our graduating law students will have more options and opportunities for successful careers and deeper impact in the communities they serve,” University President Devorah Lieberman said.
Naccache said the College of Law has grown within the past few years, thanks to dedicated faculty and administration, and a curriculum that also focuses on practical experiences.
“(They) definitely set us all up for success,” she said.
Naccache said La Verne’s law school stood out to her because even during its provisional accreditation status, she knew the College was taking steps toward improvement and full approval.
“And the faculty won’t stop,” she said. “They will still look for ways to improve and succeed.”
Jennifer Jackson also contributed to this report.