I-TEAM: Jacksonville law school under scrutiny for academics, admissions

Florida Coastal School of Law received letter from accrediting organization

By Tarik Minor - Anchor, I-TEAM reporter , Eric Wallace - Senior Producer, I-TEAM
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The I-TEAM has learned that a Jacksonville law school has been told it needs to make improvements to its academic programs or risk facing penalties related to its accreditation.

The American Bar Association has notified the Florida Coastal School of Law that it is “significantly out of compliance” with the association’s standards for accredited law schools.  The association’s managing director of accreditation and legal education sent a letter to FCSL’s president and dean on Oct. 12, informing them of the findings.

During a September meeting, the ABA’s accreditation committee found the school was not in compliance with specific standards:

  • Standard 301(a), which requires the school to maintain a “rigorous program of legal education” to prepare students for bar admission and a career in the legal profession after graduation.
  • Standard 309(b), which requires the school to provide academic support to give students a reasonable chance to complete the program, graduate and join the legal profession.
  • Standards 501(a) and 501(b) and Interpretation 501-1, which deal with admissions practices.  The school is required to not admit students who don’t appear capable of completing the program and being admitted to the bar.

During the most recent administration of Florida’s bar exam in July, 47.7 percent of FCSL graduates taking the exam for the first time passed it.  That rate was the lowest among all law schools in Florida for that testing period.

The school has been asked to submit a report to the accreditation committee this month, outlining the steps it is taking to get back into compliance, and then appear before the committee at a hearing in March of 2018.  The committee will evaluate the measures and could put the school on probation if it finds the steps are not up to standards.

FCSL, a for-profit law school, is owned by InfiLaw.  The two other schools owned by InfiLaw, the Charlotte School of Law and the Arizona Summit School of Law, have been placed on probation by the ABA within the last year, due to noncompliance with academic and admissions standards.  The Charlotte School of Law closed in August.

Wednesday afternoon, the Florida Coastal School of Law released the following statement to the I-TEAM:

“It is true that the ABA found us out of compliance based on the 2012-2016 period. There are many misconceptions about what this means. For example, we do not believe we are out of compliance at the present. The ABA’s decision was based on historical data and likely influenced by our recent bar passage results. It was also made before the ABA could have seen the 90 percent improvement in our Florida first-time bar pass results from February to July. In addition, there are over 50 ABA Standards and the ABA ultimately focused on three in our letter, all of which at their core relate to bar passage. The ABA notified us that we are out of compliance on these 3 out of 50 Standards in order to give us the opportunity to dispute that finding or to make changes at the school to bring ourselves into compliance. As noted below, we believe we have already made the changes necessary to satisfy the ABA that we are currently in compliance.   
We are confident that we are currently in compliance because starting with our fall 2016 class we have greatly raised incoming credentials, placing us above approximately 23 other law schools and on a par with 15 additional schools. (We do not have the admission standards for 2017 from other law schools, but we can compare Florida Coastal’s 2017 admission results to last year’s published statistics in U.S. News & World.) This increase in incoming credentials will produce increases in bar results; but because law school is a three-year program, we will not see these improvements immediately. 
In addition, our data indicates that students who remain at Coastal outperform on the Florida bar exam students with the same credentials who transfer to Barry University, Florida A&M, Florida State, St. Thomas, University of Florida, and the University of Miami schools of law. We expect that the ABA in reviewing our compliance will find this comparison quite helpful.
In summary, we fully expect the ABA to find us in compliance at their next opportunity."

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