Sum­mit Law once again put on no­tice

ABA: Pri­vate school out of fi­nan­cial com­pli­ance

The Arizona Republic - - Front Page - Anne Ry­man

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.

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