California bar examiners committee withdraws Peoples College of Law registration, ends degree-granting program
Updated: After 15 years of noncompliance issues, the State Bar of California’s Committee of Bar Examiners made “a first-of-its kind move” by withdrawing the Peoples College of Law’s registration and terminating its degree-granting authority, according to a Dec. 14 release.
The Peoples College of Law, a Los Angeles-based, unaccredited law school founded in 1974 focused on serving underrepresented students interested in public-interest law, has been on probation since December 2022, according to the press release. Since then, the school has not demonstrated compliance with the state bar’s standards, according to the press release.
The news follows a Nov. 30 announcement that the Golden Gate University School of Law, another California law school struggling financially and focused on serving underrepresented students, will discontinue its JD program when the academic year ends.
The San Francisco-based school, which was accredited by the ABA, had its teach-out plan rejected by the council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. In addition, the council last month formally withdrew approval of the Florida Coastal School of Law, a private for-profit school in Jacksonville, Florida, following the completion of its teach-out program.
The Peoples College of Law’s long list of troubles is enumerated in a 192-page report, including failures to provide timely refunds, implement meaningful faculty evaluations, deliver grades in a timely fashion, update transcripts, offer a fourth year of classes, and honest communications with students and prospects.
“When a law school continually misses that mark for a long period of time, this negatively impacts students. Consumer protection demands that we hold schools to standards,” said Leah Wilson, the California state bar’s executive director, in the press release. “We simply cannot shirk our responsibilities and fail to protect consumers of legal education.”
In a statement sent to the ABA Journal, the college’s community board wrote that it was “disappointed” in the decision.
“PCL has faced a number of challenges over the past few years, which were exacerbated by the pandemic. We are saddened by the decision made by the CBE because PCL achieved substantial compliance with the regulations and believed it would demonstrate its ability to sustain compliance by the end of the probationary period, which the CBE had originally set for May of 2024,” the community board wrote. “Unfortunately, the CBE did not provide PCL with the chance to finish out its probation.”
“The report of the state bar staff person that led to the decision yesterday was full of incorrect, misleading, unfair and biased statements,” wrote Ira Spiro, the former dean of the Peoples College of Law, in an email to the Journal, writing in his personal capacity.
Spiro, who has also acted as an attorney for the Peoples College of Law on occasion, had a number of objections to the state bar report. For example, he said students were provided complete and accurate disclosure statements during the winter quarter, as well as during the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 academic years, despite the state bar’s assertions that information was not provided.
“State bar staff reports that PCL makes sensitive student financial documents available to ‘all community board members,’ but this is not true, either,” he added.
Although the state bar staff recommended that the school’s registration end immediately, the Committee of Bar Examiners set the termination date May 31, 2024, allowing the school’s remaining students time to transfer to another school or participate in the state bar’s Law Office Study program, which allows apprentices working with a judge or an attorney to follow a self-designed study course, according to the press release.
California law schools that are not accredited by the ABA but have state registration attract more diverse student bodies but have a 51% attrition rate and low bar passage rates, according to a study by the California state bar.
“Over 1,650 JD degrees from ABA-approved law schools were conferred upon law students of color, in sharp contrast to the 280 and 37 degrees awarded to students of color by the [State Bar of California’s Committee of Bar Examiners] and unaccredited schools, respectively,” according to the study.
Updated Dec. 15 at 2:21 p.m. to correctly state that the State Bar of California’s staff recommended that the Peoples College of Law’s registration end immediately. Updated Dec. 15 at 3:20 p.m. to include comments from Ira Spiro, the former dean of the Peoples College of Law. Updated Dec. 15 at 4:30 p.m. to include comments from the college’s community board. Updated Dec. 18 at 8:12 a.m. to change a word in a quote at the request of the college’s community board.