When the American Bar Association denied accreditation to Lincoln Memorial University's new Duncan School of Law in December, the school decided to challenge the decision with a federal lawsuit.
Without ABA accreditation, graduates of the fledgling law school would not be eligible to sit for the bar exam in any state other than Tennessee. LMU leaders took the challenge directly to court because they said a typical administrative appeal following ABA protocol would be "pointless."
LMU spokesperson Kate Reagan confirmed Thursday afternoon that the Duncan School of Law (DSOL) has now changed its strategy by filing an administrative appeal with the ABA. Thursday was the deadline to submit an appeal according to ABA guidelines.
The decision to follow typical appeals protocol comes one day after a U.S. District Court judge rejected LMU's request for an injunction and temporary restraining order against the ABA. The point of the request was to place the ABA's ruling on hold until the federal courts can decide the issue. It also would have forced the ABA to remove a notice from its website that said the DSOL was denied accreditation.
"The federal court lawsuit is still pending. It has not been ruled on," said long-time Knoxville attorney and Inside Tennessee panelist Dennis Francis.
Francis does not represent either side in the legal fight between LMU and the ABA. Francis said he was not surprised by Judge Thomas Varlan's ruling.
"The judge only ruled on a request for injunctive relief, which is hard to come by. It is very rarely granted and you have to show irreparable harm," said Francis. "The opinion written by Judge Varlan is incredibly thorough. It is not just a one-line memo that the request was rejected. He wrote 43 pages and talked about every point of what LMU will have to do to win a legal challenge and get accreditation."
Judge Varlan's opinion (pdf) said the DOSL was unlikely to succeed in its federal lawsuit because it did not exhaust all of its other appeal options before taking its case to the courts. On page 13 of his written opinion, Varlan states, "the Court finds that plaintiff has not demonstrated a strong likelihood of success on the merits with respect to its due process claims because it appears that plaintiff was required to exhaust the administrative remedy available to it. Alternatively, the Court finds that plaintiff has not demonstrated at this time that the decision to deny provisional approval violated due process."
""I think their [LMU's] focus should be and will be to remedy whatever shortcomings, if there are any, they can remedy in a short period of time," said Francis. "The ABA has 105 days to hear an appeal once it is filed, so it will happen sometime between now and early May."
Leaders with the Duncan School of Law declined a request for an on-camera interview because the litigation is ongoing. LMU spokesperson Kate Reagan said there were no numbers available as of yet to show how enrollment at the law school has been affected by the accreditation denial.
"We should have a better idea when the month is over. January is definitely a critical time for enrollment because this is the time of year when people have taken the LSAT and are applying to schools," said Reagan.
The first class of students at DSOL are set to graduate in May 2013.