Summit Law once again put on notice
ABA: Private school out of financial compliance
A private Phoenix law school on probation by the American Bar Association for low passage rates on the State Bar exam is now out of compliance with standards concerning its finances.
The ABA, which accredits law schools, reviewed Arizona Summit Law School’s probationary status in early December and notified the school of its findings on Thursday.
A letter from Barry Currier, the ABA’s managing director of Accreditation and Legal Education, said the school is not in compliance with an ABA financial standard that says “the current and anticipated financial resources available to the law school shall be sufficient for it to operate in compliance with the standards and to carry out its program of legal education.”
The ABA is asking school officials to submit a financial report by Feb. 1 and to appear before the accrediting committee again in mid-March.
ABA officials declined to comment Tuesday beyond what was in the letter, and the letter did not specify details on the financial non-compliance issues.
“We just completed a second, multi-
million dollar capital raise to strengthen Summit’s financial position. We have cut costs consistent with plans to maintain a much smaller school. We will be updating the ABA on these developments shortly,” said Don Lively, the school’s founder and president, in a statement.
The letter from the ABA is the latest sign that the school, formerly known as the Phoenix School of Law, continues to struggle.
In May, the Arizona State Board for Private Postsecondary Education, the licensing agency for for-profit colleges, voted to require the school to post a $1.5 million surety bond to guarantee students would be repaid should the school fail.
School officials told state regulators they had no plans to close the school.
In October, the latest results of the State Bar exam were released and showed that only one out of four Arizona Summit graduates passed the test on the first try. By comparison, three out of four passed the exam at Arizona State University’s and University of Arizona’s law schools.
The ABA put Arizona Summit on probation in March for being out of compliance on State Bar exam passage rates, admission practices, and academic standards and support.
The ABA warned that the association could take additional sanctions “up to and including withdrawal of (ABA) approval,” if conditions didn’t improve. If Arizona Summit were to lose its accreditation, its graduates wouldn’t be able to sit for the Bar exam in Arizona and many other states.
School officials have said they are making every effort to comply with ABA standards.
Arizona Summit Interim Dean Dean Penny Willrich said in an October interview with The
Arizona Republic that the school has raised its admission standards for incoming students, requiring higher grade-point averages and higher scores on the Law School Admission Test.
GPA and LSAT scores are two factors that can influence how well students do in law school and whether they pass the Bar exam after graduation.
Willrich said that the school also has increased rigor in the classroom and in grading and adjusted curriculum to make it more like traditional law schools. Students also are strongly encouraged to enroll in Bar-preparation programs, she said.
“My goal is to take us back to a time when we were very successful on the bar and had 75 and 80 percent (pass) range,” she said. “I think we can get there with all the changes that have taken place. But of course, it’s going to take a little bit of time.”
Arizona Summit is one of three schools started by a for-profit company, InfiLaw Corp.
The InfiLaw schools were founded more than a decade ago with the mission of diversifying the legal profession. Arizona Summit has won awards for its diverse student population, which is about 41 percent minority — higher than either ASU’s or UA’s law schools.
School officials have said many of Summit’s students come to law school in “catch-up mode.” Some are from poorer families who haven’t had access to good education systems.
But law-school watchdogs have questioned whether school officials admitted too many students with lower LSAT scores over the years.
The school started in 2005 with relatively small numbers — only 27 in its inaugural class — but added hundreds more over time.
Enrollment reached the 700s by 2011 and peaked at around 1,000 by 2013. Student enrollment has since declined to around 200.
InfiLaw’s other two schools have run into problems in recent years.
InfiLaw’s Charlotte School of Law was put on probation in November 2016 for its bar-passage rates and closed in August after the U.S. Department of Education pulled its federal student-loan funding.
Former students have filed three federal lawsuits, accusing the Charlotte school and its corporate owners of fraud and breach of contract.
The ABA notified InfiLaw’s Florida Coastal School of Law in October that it was “significantly out of compliance” with the ABA’s standards and was given until March to demonstrate it is complying.
Standards cited by the ABA include maintaining a rigorous program of legal education that prepares students for passing the bar, providing academic support and following sound admissions practices.
These were the similar concerns that prompted the ABA to put Arizona Summit on probation in March.