(WBIR - Knoxville) This week Lincoln Memorial University's Duncan School of Law took another step in its quest for accreditation from the American Bar Association.
"The process continues to move forward. This week we had a visit from an ABA site team here to gather up some loose ends. They will file a report to the accreditation committee. The committee will make a recommendation in September to the council that votes yay or nay in December," said Parham Williams, dean of the Duncan School of Law.
Parham said he feels good about the school's chances at gaining accreditation. Without accreditation, graduates of the school cannot take the bar exam in states other than Tennessee.
"A lot of things have transpired in the last two years and the progress here has really been significant," said Williams. "We've made all of the corrections the ABA has recommended. There's a whole new tenor and a sense of achievement at the law school."
In December 2011, the ABA denied LMU's application for accreditation. The law school's leadership at the time reacted defiantly and filed a lawsuit against the ABA. Since those early reactions, the school wisely dropped the lawsuit and changed its tone dramatically to one of full cooperation with the ABA. The school also made changes by bringing in Williams as the new dean a year and a half ago.
"This time we're in a very strong position and I can say the site team that was here Monday and Tuesday of this week, well they got excited," said Williams.
Arguments in favor of accreditation for LMU include a great facility in downtown Knoxville, a strong faculty, and a high percentage of its graduates have passed the bar exam.
"I think as of now we have 92 percent of our graduating class in 2013 have passed the bar exam. For a new law school just getting started, that is almost unheard of."
Law Schools Struggle Nationally
No matter how well LMU performs, some external forces may work against the school's quest for accreditation. The ABA accreditation committee is under pressure not to approve new member schools because the existing law schools are having trouble attracting applicants.
Statistics from the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) show a drastic and steady reduction in the amount of people applying to law schools over the last decade.
For the fall semester of 2004, there were 100,600 people who applied to ABA accredited law schools across the country. For fall 2013, the number of applicants had dropped to 59,400. That's a 41 percent decrease in applicants.
With the drop in applicants, there has not been an equal drop in the amount of people admitted to law schools. There were 55,900 admitted to law school in 2004, a 56 percent admission rate. The amount admitted in 2013 was 45,700, which amounts to an admission rate of 77 percent.
The amount of people merely taking the LSAT entrance exam has also plummeted 24 percent in the last decade, down from 147,600 in 2004 to 112,500 in 2013.
LMU Mission Unique
While nationally there has been a significant decline in law schools, Williams does not think it will impact LMU's application for accreditation.
"It is certainly an assumption some people make, but this school has a unique mission. It was founded for the purpose of providing legal education services to the under-served population of Southern Appalachia. No other school is really committed to that mission. Even though other schools in the country have suffered declines - and certainly they have, very significant - I think the nature and quality of our mission will enable us to provide increasingly strong educational services to the people of this region," said Williams.
Williams said LMU has also dedicated itself to strong recruitment of students from the 35 private liberal arts colleges in the Appalachian College Association. Williams said LMU has received 40 percent more applicants this year compared to the same time in 2013.