Arizona Summit second of three Infilaw schools to lose accreditation.

By Jack Crittenden 

Arizona Summit Law School will become the first fully accredited law school to lose American Bar Association accreditation unless it can win a last-ditch appeal. And Florida Coastal School of Law, also owned by Infilaw, is fighting the ABA in court to avoid the same fate.

The ABA notified Arizona Summit in early June that it would lose accreditation after being on probation for the past year. It has until July 9 to file an appeal. Until then, it is unable to accept new students and must put together a “teach out plan,” designed to ensure that current students are able to complete their law degree.

Arizona Summit, a for-profit school, has struggled with its bar exam pass rate in recent years. It reported a 20.1 percent pass rate on last July’s exam. As shocking as that figure was, it was the third year in a row that the school recorded a passage rate below 31 percent on the Arizona exam. Just nine years ago, the Phoenix school reported a 96.7 percent passage rate on the Arizona exam, highest in the state. By 2013, that figure had dropped to 67.7 percent, and then 30.6 percent in July 2015.

Arizona Summit is one of three law schools that Infilaw System at one-time owned. Another, Charlotte School of Law, was forced to close last summer after the ABA placed in on probation and the U.S. Department of Education withdrew federal financial aid. The three Infilaw schools sued the ABA in federal court in May, alleging the national accrediting body applies its standards "arbitrarily" while giving a pass to other schools with lower outcomes.

Florida Coastal School of Law, based in Jacksonville, Fla., recently asked a federal judge to halt the ABA from requiring it to disclose to students and prospective students that it is out of compliance with rules pertaining to the rigor of its educational program and academic support.

All three schools have run into problems for admitting students who then struggled to pass the bar exam. The ABA has been critical of the students admitted, as evidenced in part by low LSAT scores, and the academic support the school’s provided those students.

Arizona Summit and Charlotte reported a median LSAT of 151 in 2009. Five years later, those scores fell to 144 for Arizona Summit, and 142 for Charlotte School of Law.

But Arizona Summit President Donald Lively said the ABA has acted arbitrarily.

"We have done exactly what the ABA asked us to do: increased admission standards, revamped curriculum to ensure rigor and fortified academic support," he told “The [ABA's decision] seems unduly harsh for an institution that has performed well for most of its history, took appropriate curative action in a timely manner, and to this day remains in compliance with bar pass standards."

The ABA requires the ultimate bar passage rate for any school to be 75 percent, a standard that Arizona Summit is meeting. But, it also requires that the first-time rate be within 15 percent of the state average, and that’s where Arizona Summit is falling short. It is 40 points below the average.

Florida Coastal argues that the ABA ignored the fact that it improved its most recent bar exam results, with 62 percent of first-time takers passing the February 2018 exam. Florida Coastal also argues that it has improved the academic credentials of incoming students since the fall of 2016.

The ABA recently found Western Michigan University Cooley Law School to be back in compliance after improving its admissions requirements. Florida Coastal said this was “blatantly inconsistent.”

“The ABA has not given a reasonable explanation, or any explanation, for the disparity in the treatment of the two law schools,” according to Florida Coastal’s motion.