ABA’s Accreditation Standards Under Microscope in Two Suits

The American Bar Association faces suits in two separate but related cases implicating its law school accreditation standards.

The suits are flip sides of the same coin, David Frakt,a member of Law School Transparency, which provides information and analysis on legal education issues, told Bloomberg Law.

One alleges the ABA was too hard on the Florida Coastal School of Law, Infilaw, and the other says it was too soft on the Charlotte School of Law in North Carolina, he said.

But they’re both true, Frakt said, noting that the accreditation standards are vague, especially the admissions standard.

The ABA, he added, has been reluctant to say what a reasonable admissions standard is.

The bar association didn’t comment on the cases.

Out of Compliance

The bar association found in April that Florida Coastal wasn’t in compliance with several standards for accreditation, including the admission standard.

It ordered the school to disclose the findings and warned that if it didn’t come into compliance by September 2019, the ABA would revoke its accreditation, the May 10 complaint alleges.

The standards the school allegedly didn’t meet include maintaining a rigorous program of legal education, providing students with academic support, and admitting only those candidates who appear capable of graduating and being admitted to the bar.

These standards are “fuzzy” and don’t provide objective ways to measure compliance, a due process violation, the school says in its complaint.

The ABA also doesn’t explain how it made the determination and doesn’t offer suggestions on how to comply, it says.

They’re also arbitrary because the ABA found Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School’s admissions policy in compliance with its standards but its admissions practices are similar to Florida’s, the complaint says.

The school said in a press release that the ABA targeted it because it’s a for-profit school and hasn’t acknowledged the many accolades it has recently received, like finishing first in Florida in the 2018 National Moot Court competition.

Another Suit

The owner of the Florida Coastal School of Law, Infilaw, is facing its own legal troubles in a whistleblower action where it is accused, along with the ABA.

The suit was filed in 2016 and the ABA was added as a defendant on May 8.

The plaintiffs—a former professor and student at Charlotte School of Law, which Infilaw owned—allege the ABA repeatedly ignored Charlotte’s non-compliance with accreditation standards.

Accrediting the school enabled it to get federal financial aid even though it didn’t qualify, they say.

The school closed in 2017 after North Carolina revoked its license to operate. It became the first accredited law school in the United States to be expelled from the federal student loan program, the complaint says.

The cases are Fla. Coastal Sch. of Law v. Am. Bar. Ass’n, M.D. Fla., No. 3:18-cv-621, complaint filed 5/10/18; United States v. Infilaw Corp., M.D. Fla., No. 6:16-cv-00970, second amended complaint filed 5/7/18.

To contact the reporter on this story: Melissa Heelan Stanzione in Washington at mstanzione@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com