Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Drexel Law School Wins Accreditation

Congratulations to the folks at Drexel! Here is the story:

New JD Factory Gets Provisional ABA Accreditation

New York Lawyer
February 20, 2008

By Gina Passarella
The Legal Intelligencer

While some law schools may not have been thrilled about decisions that came out of the American Bar Association's midyear meeting a week and a half ago in Los Angeles, Drexel University School of Law came home with some good news.

The school was given its provisional accreditation more than four months ahead of schedule.

Although Roger Dennis, the law school's dean, didn't expect there to be any problems with the process, the provisional accreditation does allow the campus to utter a collective sigh of relief.

The first class, set to graduate in 2009, will now be able to sit for any state's bar exam. Having the provisional accreditation will also allow the school to receive funds from Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts for clinical programs - something Dennis said Drexel is very committed to but from which the school has not been able to receive the extra funding other area schools have seen.

Drexel law students will now be eligible for various fellowships that only go to students at accredited schools and certain employers may be less hesitant to invest in Drexel 1Ls and 2Ls for summer associate programs knowing that they will be able to sit for the bar, Dennis said. The school will also be able to better recruit on a national scale, he said.

Prior to joining Drexel, Dennis was with Rutgers University and had sat for six years on the council of the ABA's section of legal education and admissions to the bar - the section that handles the accreditation process. While he knew what to expect of the process and was pretty confident that Drexel was more than prepared, he said a bit of doubt began to creep in at the ABA's meeting on Feb. 9.

Dennis and a few other Drexel representatives went before the council of the ABA's section of legal education and admissions to the bar a little before 9 a.m. that Saturday. It was a relatively short, uneventful meeting before the council to go over a few last- minute things before the provisional accreditation could be granted, he said.

The council then went into private deliberations to vote on Drexel's accreditation. Dennis said those occasional doubts began as the hours passed by and he hadn't received a phone call. At about 1:15 p.m., he finally heard what he had been waiting for. Drexel easily achieved its provisional accreditation.

As it turns out, Dennis' suspicions for the cause of the delay were accurate. The council took only a few minutes to vote on Drexel's status and moved on to discuss the ABA's more controversial issue at hand - proposed interpretation 301-6.

The interpretation was passed and requires law schools - in order to meet the accreditation requirement - to reach a 75 percent bar passage rate of the school's graduates sitting for the bar over the past five years. In addition, at least 75 percent of the graduates sitting for the bar each year must pass in three of those five years.

Dennis said the school, being unaccredited at the time, didn't take a position on the proposed interpretation prior to the vote.

He said he is "a bit of a hawk when it comes to bar passage rates" and said law schools should be accountable for their individual passage rates.

Students spend a lot of money and give up three to four years of their lives for law schools. Not passing the bar by the second try is bad for their careers, he said.

The new interpretation will only affect a handful of schools, Dennis said, and is probably not going to create as much of a change as the "brouhaha" over the vote might have indicated.

While he wouldn't hazard a guess in terms of where Drexel's first class would be in terms of passage rates, Dennis said he would be disappointed if the students weren't very similar to those of Villanova, Temple and Rutgers on their first try.

As would any law school, he said, Drexel looks to achieve high bar passage rates by bringing in quality students, designing a curriculum that will prepare them and hiring experienced educators.

Dennis said the school has also hired a faculty member to work one-on-one or in teams with students who aren't doing as well on exams.

Aside from working with its students on their bar passage rate, Drexel Law has been diligently working on its biggest test to date.

The accreditation process really began in October 2007 when a team of lawyers, judges and academics visited the school. The team wrote a lengthy report that was submitted to the ABA. Dennis said the suggested improvements in the report are confidential but said the suggestions for Drexel were more reminders about what the school had to do in the future to attain full accreditation.

The school went before the council in December 2007 to answer any questions the members had in terms of the school's vision, how it would be implemented and what its financial prospects looked like. Dennis said it was like a hearing on the record.

Given Dennis' experience on the committee, he knew what questions might be asked and tried to already have them answered in reports the school had to submit to the ABA.

"Ours was as, in a nice way, routine as possible," Dennis said of the overall process.

He said the school was "super prepared" and had created its own self-study to go along with the previous report written by the team that visited in October.

That was one reason, he said, the school was able to get a decision well before June, when the provisional accreditation was originally expected.

Coming out of a national research university also carried some weight, he said.

"Drexel University is not going to let its law school fail," Dennis said.

The law school has spent a lot of time bringing on strong faculty and has focused on Drexel's long-standing model of experiential learning, he said.

Dennis said the Philadelphia bar has been very supportive and the school hasn't been shy about asking. Drexel Law has more than 100 students in co-ops in this region.

"It's pretty clear we're trying to be an ambitious, cutting-edge law school," he said.

Dennis said Philadelphia is as tough of a law school market as one can find.

"If we're not good from almost the day we open the doors, we're not where we want to be," he said.

The next step for Drexel is to become a fully accredited school - which looks to mean more of the same for the next few years. Dennis said the school would have a provisional accreditation for two years. ABA representatives will visit the school next year to check in, and full accreditation would most likely come the year after that.

The information from the Drexel website is here.

1 comment:

Schmessers said...

Thanks for the posting. We are breathing easier.

Karen Schneiderman, Drexel University College of Law Library