Atlanta’s John Marshall switches to nonprofit

Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School rung in the New Year as a nonprofit organization. For the law school, that’s something to celebrate because it had been seeking the change for several years. It was founded in 1933 as a nonprofit institution but became a for-profit organization in the 1990s. 

The school received accreditation from the American Bar Association (ABA) in 2005 but has run into problems in recent years. The ABA placed it on probation for most of 2019 for a number of compliance issues before taking it off probation in November 2019. In May 2020, the ABA warned that the school was again out of compliance, this time because of its bar passage rate.

The law school has been working on converting to 501(c)(3) status because school leaders see it as a positive change. “I am extremely excited for the future of the law school and the enormous potential benefits to our students under the new status,” said Dean Jace C. Gatewood. 

Atlanta’s John Marshall lost its non- profit status in the 1990s, when it was acquired by a for-profit company. It was facing financial pressures and likely would not have survived without acquisition. 

School officials said Atlanta’s John Marshall looked to change back for a host of reasons: 

“In 2018, the law school’s board of directors and faculty determined it was in the best interest of the institution and its students to return the law school to its nonprofit roots to better enhance its mis- sion and the law school’s contribution to the community.” 

The school will now be operated by Atlanta Law Center Inc., a Georgia nonprofit corporation doing business as Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School. 

As a result of the change, there are now only three for-profit law schools in the U.S. with ABA accreditation. Two of them are working to attain nonprofit status. 

Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville, Fla., and Charleston School of Law in South Carolina hope to be nonprofit entities soon. That would leave Western State College of Law at Westcliff University in Irvine, Calif., as the only for- profit law school with ABA accreditation. 

Until recently, InfiLaw System, which owns and operates Florida Coastal, had two other for-profit schools — Arizona Summit in Phoenix, Ariz., and Charlotte School of Law in North Carolina — but they have closed. Both faced a host of ABA penalties for poor performance, particularly in bar passage. 

Atlanta’s John Marshall is one of eight law schools that has failed to meet the new ABA standard for bar passage. Schools need to have 75% of their graduates pass the bar within two years of graduation to be in compliance. Atlanta’s John Marshall’s 2017 ultimate bar passage rate was 67%.

Western State College of Law has been on something of roller-coaster ride. One of the first for-profit law schools to receive ABA accreditation, it reverted to nonprofit status when it was purchased in 2017. Its parent school had a financial meltdown, however, and the school was then purchased by for-profit Westcliff University. The law school went back to being a for-profit institution when that acquisition was finalized. 

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