Law Schools

New Texas law school not recommended for ABA accreditation

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The ABA’s accreditation committee has recommended that the University of North Texas Dallas College of Law not receive accreditation, the school’s dean told the ABA Journal, and he plans a response.

“We will get a fair hearing,” says Royal Furgeson Jr., UNT Dallas Law’s dean and a former U.S. district court judge in the Northern District of Texas. “We’ll tell the council that there’s a giant need for affordable law schools like us, and we’re going to meet that need.”

Barry A. Currier, the ABA’s managing director of accreditation and legal education, said the council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar does not comment on pending recommendations.

The recommendation presents an interesting contrast between accreditation requirements and law school intent. According to the Dallas Morning News, the ABA committee cited a large number of students with low LSAT scores at the school, and was concerned that students were being admitted who would be unable to pass the bar exam. The article also notes that last fall, one-fifth of the school’s first-year class was placed on academic probation. Additionally, the school admitted 17 students who were dismissed from other law schools, mostly for bad grades.

But it is just this type of student that led Furgeson to become the founding dean of UNT Dallas Law. A 2014 Huffington Post article said, “Furgeson and his admissions staff are relying less on GPA and LSAT scores … in favor of recommendations and life experience.”

The law school took its first class in 2014, and that group is scheduled to graduate in May. Meanwhile, the law school has asked the Texas Supreme Court to allow them to sit for the bar even if the school does not get ABA accreditation.

As of autumn 2016, the school expects to have more than 400 students, Furgeson says.

“The ABA has said that if we take students with higher LSAT scores, we won’t get as many students, and we’ll have financial problems,” Furgeson said. “We’re a state school. It’s not like somebody just decided to open a law school without any backing. We’ve got muscle behind us.”

The state invested $56 million to remodel a building for the school, according to Furgeson. They plan to keep annual tuition under $17,000, he says, and they also admit students who don’t have great LSAT scores but appear promising in other ways, based on things like military service and prior work experience.

Curriculum at the school is somewhat different: The courses have multiple exams, including midterms, and some have assessments after each class. Professors teach to the bar exam, Furgeson said, and if students seem to be struggling, the school intervenes.

“We know some of our students are at risk, and we want to identify them properly and give them the academic support they need,” he added. “People can be taught these things in a three-year period. We have a very mindful program of how important it is to get these students ready to pass the bar—surely that can make a difference.”

The ABA process includes a site visit, review and recommendation of the accreditation committee. The committee makes a recommendation to the council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, which makes the final decision. The committee does not have authority to grant or deny provisional approval. And law schools, whether they have a positive or negative recommendation from the committee, may file a response to the recommendation letter.

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