The American Bar Association placed the Charlotte School of Law on probation on Nov. 14, making it the only one of 205 ABA-accredited institutions currently under such scrutiny.
According to the ABA, it conducted a hearing in October regarding Charlotte’s compliance with three accreditation standards related to the school’s admission practices and its ability to prepare students for bar admission.
Charlotte had appealed a June 2016 decision by the ABA’s Accreditation Committee that the school had not complied with its standards and must take specific remedial actions. The Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar upheld the committee’s conclusion that Charlotte is out of compliance with Standards 301(a), 501(a) and 501(b), and has laid out several actions that Charlotte must take, including developing a “written reliable plan” for bringing the 10-year-old school back into compliance.
Charlotte officials must submit that plan to the ABA by Dec. 15.
The school’s dean, Jay Conison, said the school is already on it.
“Although they gave us the label “probation,” at the end of the day, that’s really not the real issue,” Conison said. “The real issue is that the ABA has said that we have to do some additional work to bring ourselves into compliance with the standards related to admissions and relating to preparing students to take the bar examination. We’ve already crafted for the ABA a very detailed 50-page plan.”
That plan is full of initiatives and descriptors such as “counseling,”“academic support,” and “bar preparation” that Conison hopes will bring the school’s profile back to its 2010 form and perhaps even better. In those days, the year before it received full accreditation, Charlotte had more competitive median undergraduate grade point averages and Law School Admission Test scores.
Also due to the ABA by Dec. 15 is the school’s admission policy for next fall’s incoming class. Where factors other than GPAs and LSAT scores are used to support admission, Charlotte must report those factors and explain how they are determined and applied when deciding whether to admit an applicant.
Over the past several years, Charlotte has seen a decline in not only the bar passage rate of its graduates — which seems to be a national phenomenon — but in the LSAT, college grades, and other indicators that its students might one day go on to be effective members of the legal profession.
Conison told Lawyers Weekly earlier this year that the school was considering dismissing students who have displayed warning signs early in their law school career. It would be a “disservice,” he said, to allow underperforming students to continue at the school. He made clear that they would be welcome to reapply after some time away.
He added last week that Charlotte is actively seeking to enroll students with higher academic profiles, and that part of that endeavor consists of an “aggressive” recruiting campaign that includes scholarships for qualified applicants.
Charlotte has traditionally touted itself as a school of opportunity; a place for those who dream of a law career but who may have limited options, a place that “serves the underserved.”
Conison said that Charlotte is “trying to be careful” and stay true to its mission of giving people a chance, even those who may not have all the indicators that are “conventionally required by law schools.”
“It’s important for opportunity, it’s important for diversity,” Conison said.
But he also realizes that the ABA is expecting change; changes that he is confident Charlotte can effect.
“We believe that we are on track with the improvements in our admissions profile to get us to where the ABA wants us to be,” Conison said. “We’re very comfortable also that getting our incoming profile to these levels is going to be a very strong predictor of bar success.”
Follow Heath Hamacher on Twitter @NCLWHamacher