Western State University College of Law in Fullerton has sued the American Bar
Assn., alleging that the organization is unfairly seeking to strip the school of
its national accreditation because it has a "historic hostility"
toward for-profit law schools.
The lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, also says the ABA
is violating its own procedures and seeks an injunction to prevent the group's
House of Delegates from voting to withdraw Western State's provisional approval
when it meets in early February.
The ABA granted Western State provisional approval in 1998 and gave the school
up to five years to improve its academic standards and qualify for full
accreditation — widely considered the gold standard in legal education.
Since then, ABA officials have visited Western State several times to evaluate
its progress but have repeatedly concluded that its academic standards fall
short. The ABA has criticized low student entrance exam scores, the school's
dropout rate and the percentage of graduates who pass the bar.
In July 2003, for example, 46% of Western State's graduates who took the bar
exam for the first time passed — up from 34% two years earlier.
The average pass rate last year among ABA-approved law schools in California was
72%. Stanford University scored highest with 92%.
Western State officials say the improvement in their bar exam results and other
academic benchmarks during the two years since the school was bought by
Pittsburgh-based Education Management Corp. show progress is being made. They
want the ABA to extend its provisional approval beyond the five years —
something that's been done at least seven times since the mid-1970s at other law
schools, according to the suit.
Don Daucher, a lawyer for Western State, said the ABA has never failed to extend
provisional approval "unless the school was being sold or was going out of
business. If you've got a school that's improving, it doesn't make any sense for
them to do what they're doing."
Daucher said the ABA has historically looked down at for-profit law schools. He
said that in 1996, after an antitrust action brought by the U.S. Justice
Department, the ABA settled, in part, by agreeing not to discriminate against
commercial law programs.
There are 186 law schools nationwide with provisional or full approval from the
ABA. Western State is one of only two that are for-profit, according to the
An ABA spokeswoman said the organization doesn't comment on pending litigation.
Losing ABA approval would hurt Western State's ability to recruit students, who
pay $12,340 a semester for a full-time load. The student body of about 450 is
nearly evenly split between full time and part time.
The ABA's decision would complicate the ability of graduates to take the bar
exam by adding preliminary steps and undercut their marketability. Two students
joined Western State's lawsuit as plaintiffs.
"Students who are going there now are facing a period of uncertainty,"
Daucher said. "And we're trying to end that uncertainty as soon as we
Gaining ABA approval can be a tough, drawn-out process. Orange County's two
other law schools — Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa and Chapman University's
School of Law in Orange — had their own struggles in gaining ABA approval.
Western State, founded in 1966, was Orange County's first law school.