Thomas Jefferson gets ABA death blow, but it will appeal

Thomas Jefferson School of Law was on the ropes, and it knew it. When it was placed put on probation by the American Bar Association (ABA) two years ago, the San Diego school made significant changes to try and improve its academic and financial standing.

It moved from to a cheaper, smaller location — abandoning a $90 million palace it built downtown (pictured above) when times were good — as well as fielded smaller and better qualified classes in order to right-size the stand-alone institution.

But it was not enough.

The ABA has stripped the school of its national accreditation, a move that places the school in its most precarious position yet.

Thomas Jefferson plans to appeal the ABA’s decision, reached in May but announced recently. If it fails, it’s curtains — at least when it comes to national accreditation.

“The Law School is disappointed by this capricious decision and strongly disagrees with the Council’s findings,” she school said in a statement. “The Law School has taken concrete and significant steps in response to the Council’s concerns, and has fundamentally changed, transforming into a smaller, stronger school …”

It then notes the efforts, including reducing debt by $42 million, moving to a new location and improving the LSAT profile of incoming students, among other steps.

The law school was found by the ABA to be in lacking in a number of key areas, including not having sufficient financial resources to run a law school and failure to admit students who were capable of passing the bar and practicing law.

Thomas Jefferson was flailing, no question. Its enrollment dropped dramatically when the legal education crisis hit. In 2011, it had more than 1,000 students. In 2014, it had fallen to 765. The 2018 ABA 509 report has enrollment at 326. It had moved to its glitzy new building in 2011 but soon found itself unable to pay for it.

So it sold the building and began leasing it out. Even that proved problematic, so it moved to another downtown site to cut costs further. The former building offered 305,000 square feet of space. The new one has 55,000 square feet.

The school’s bar passage rate has been horrendous, far worse of any California school. Just 26 percent of its first test-takers from the Class of 2018 passed the bar. The ultimate bar passage rate for the Class of 2016 was 63 percent. (That’s the percent of grads who pass the bar within two years of finishing school.) Under a recent ABA rule change, schools must have an ultimate bar passage rate of 75 percent.

Meanwhile, Thomas Jefferson students graduate with one of the highest debt loads in the nation. According to U.S. News & World Report, the average debt is $196,607. Ninety-two percent of grads have some level of debt.

Last year, Thomas Jefferson successfully sought accreditation from the state, should the ABA kill accreditation. That means future graduates could sit for the California bar, but not for bar exams in other states.

The ABA has cracked down on a number of poorly performing schools over the past several years. They ran into trouble because they were taking more marginal students as applications fell. That has led to worsening bar exam outcomes.





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