Opinion

FL Law School Sues Over Accreditation, Basically Claims Diversity More Important than Bar Passage

Eeuw, really, Florida Coastal School of Law? When the ABA flagged your accreditation for being lousy at being a law school, you blamed it on black students for being too dumb to teach?

Okay, fine. The school didn’t say it in quite such offensive language – but that’s the message I’m reading loud and clear.

Here’s the situation. The American Bar Association (ABA) is in charge of accrediting law schools. In order to even take the bar in most states, students must have completed a course of studies at an accredited school. Accreditation is not a gold seal demonstrating which schools the ABA prefers – it’s a stamp of approval distinguishing the schools are actually real in the sense that they take non-lawyers and turn them into lawyers. Which is kind of the point.

There are three main facets of ABA accreditation criteria: 1) the school can’t let in just anyone willing to pay the tuition, but must demonstrate some degree of selectivity; 2) the curriculum has to be real-deal legal education; and 3) after attending for three years, students need to pass the bar exam at reasonable rates.

Florida Coastal found itself in the disastrous position of making the ABA’s naughty list when, among other things, only 47.7 percent of its grads passed a bar exam that had a 71 percent overall pass rate. When the ABA threatened to revoke Florida Coastal’s accreditation, the school (kind of ironically, come to think about it) responded by suing the ABA.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in federal court, alleges that the ABA wielded its mighty power in ways that were “arbitrary and capricious, and violated the due process” of the school. In the press release, Florida Coastal whined that it “has repeatedly asked the ABA for clarification, specificity and definition,” but that, the “ABA has declined to provide such guidance.” Right, because it’s a huge mystery what’s wrong with a law school that can’t even turn half its students into lawyers. Perhaps the ABA wouldn’t have noticed the school’s miserable stats if the school’s slogan hadn’t simultaneously offended rules of logic and grammar:

“Prepared. Practice Ready for Today’s World”

Playing dumb, though, isn’t what’s grossest about Florida Coastal’s lawsuit – it’s this line in the corresponding press release:

“Most importantly, Florida Coastal has won multiple awards for its diversity and inclusion, including The INSIGHT Into Diversity Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award, for the third year in a row.”

I see. So the reason why less than half of Florida Coastal’s grads are equipped to pass the bar exam is because so many of them are minorities? I’m sorry, what? I’m not sure if I’m more outraged that the school would make this statement, or if I’m more shocked that it thought it would somehow help its case. Pro tip, people: in pretty much any compliance situation, it’s generally frowned upon to defend yourself by saying, “but we love minorities!”

I cannot imagine what Florida Coastal meant by claiming that what’s “most important” is its diversity and inclusion awards. Is it that its diverse student body is the cause of its abhorrent bar-passage rate? Or is it that the ABA should overlook the school’s crappy performance because minority students should be grateful for the chance to pay $200K to learn nothing?

If Florida Coastal really believes that the ABA applied its standards unfairly, it has every right to bring the matter before a judge. Likely, the school’s counsel (who, I’m guessing, got their diplomas elsewhere) advised this filing to try its hand at what Thomas M. Cooley School of Law accomplished. Cooley lost its accreditation for similar reasons, then sued, and got its accreditation back – a result surmised by many to be the result of settlement negotiations with the ABA.

Feel like you’ve heard of Thomas M. Cooley School of Law before? Yeah, that’s probably because it’s Michael Cohen’s alma mater. Yep. It all makes sense now, right?

 

 

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos

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