Law Schools

ABA Legal Ed council rejects Golden Gate University's plan to end its JD program

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Golden Gate University School of Law’s teach-out plan has been rejected by the American Bar Association’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.

On Nov. 30, after years of struggling to meet the ABA’s accreditation standards and financial woes, the San Francisco-based law school announced it will discontinue its juris doctorate program when this academic year ends. According to the letter signed by Barbara Mendelson, the chair of the university’s board of trustees, and David Fike, the university president, current JD students could complete their ABA-accredited degrees through arrangements with partnering institutions to earn an ABA-accredited degree.

However, the ABA council rejected the plan because it “did not include sufficient detail relating to the operation of a teach-out.” A revised plan can be submitted by Jan. 12.

University officials “were surprised and disappointed to see that the ABA decided to post this public notice,” according to an email to the ABA Journal on Dec. 1. “We strongly object to this posting.”

The teach-out plan, sent to the ABA in October, was “a provisional approach” as the school considered all options before deciding to shutter the program, the email continues. “We always expected that we would submit a more detailed teach-out plan to the ABA if and when that became necessary. Discussions with potential teach-out partners are well underway.”

Rule 29 in the ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools covers teach-outs.

Golden Gate University School of Law’s struggles have been ongoing.

The school’s Nov. 30 announcement letter states, “Given the realities of the marketplace, our law school’s place in it and a host of related trends and data, we determined it is no longer viable to offer this degree program.”

That letter noted the plan included allow transferring students to pay Golden Gate University’s tuition rates. In the fall of 2022, the school offered full scholarships to all new in-person JD students.

The law school, with 298 students, reportedly needed $50 million over five years to avoid bankruptcy, according to the San Francisco Standard. The school filed financial exigency on May 31, according to a university spokesperson.

Additionally, the school chronically struggled to meet ABA standards. The ABA requires that 75% of law students must pass the bar within two years of degree completion to remain in compliance of Standard 316. Golden Gate University has failed to meet this standard since 2017.

In February, the ABA’s legal education council granted the law school an extension to come into compliance. That same month, 48% of Golden Gate University School of Law’s 23 graduates sitting the bar for the first time passed. Only 22% of the 91 repeating the exam passed.

The Western Association of Schools and Colleges, an accrediting commission, also put the school on notice. A March 17 letter details reporting requirements from the commission, including a continued forecast of cash balances to ensure university spending didn’t outpace the realization of new revenues.

Founded in 1901, the law school will continue to offer undergraduate and eight graduate law degrees.

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