Concordia and Lincoln Memorial get ABA love: full accreditation

Most of the news concerning law schools and the American Bar Association (ABA) has been about sanctions being placed by the accrediting body on poorly performing law schools.

Well, here’s a switch.

The ABA recently gave full accreditation to two law schools: Concordia University School of Law in Boise, Idaho, and Lincoln Memorial University Duncan School of Law in Knoxville, Tenn.

Both law schools experienced bumpy rides to get the seal of approval, so there was quite the level of excitement by leaders over the news. 

"This is a day of celebration for Lincoln Memorial University and especially for the Duncan School of Law. Over the last ten years, our school has managed to hit a few potholes along the path to full approval by the American Bar Association, so success is all the sweeter," said Gary Wade, vice president and dean, according to WATE 6 TV in Knoxville.

“Full accreditation by the American Bar Association strengthens and affirms the university’s commitment to prepare caring legal professionals who display humility, courage, and faith,” said Concordia University-Portland Interim President Johnnie Driessner in a statement.

Concordia’s parent school is based in Portland. About 10 years ago, the private Lutheran school wanted to start a law school and decided on Boise as a location in part because the city didn’t have one.

The University of Idaho College of Law has a satellite branch in the city, but its main campus is based in Moscow.

The school was launched in 2012, with 75 students. While it hoped to get provincial accreditation in the normal time frame — about two years — it ended up taking longer. The ABA delayed the action so it could send fact finders to the school to get more information.

Students can’t sit for the Idaho bar if the law school they’re graduating from doesn’t have accreditation. The delay caused nearly 50 students to transfer or take time off from the law school.

It did receive provincial accreditation in 2015, paving the way for graduating students to take the bar.

Lincoln Memorial also struggled to get the key approval since its founding in 2009. It once even filed a federal suit against the ABA after being denied accreditation. Later, it relented and made efforts to work with the body and to improve its positioning. 

In 2014, it got provincial accreditation because it improved in a number of areas, including bar passage. (Unlike Concordia, its graduates were allowed to sit for the Tennessee bar.)

However, the school still was not out of the woods. In early 2018, the ABA found the school was out of compliance with an accrediting standard requiring law schools to only admit candidates who appear capable of finishing law school and passing the bar exam.

The school was ruled back in compliance in November, finally clearing the path for full accreditation.

The accreditation success is a rare good news moment for legal education. The ABA has cracked down on a number of schools for a host of sins, including poor bar passage. A number of schools, in the wake of dropping enrollment, began taking students that had questionable academic chops. 

The ABA has sanctioned the schools or placed them on probation. That’s led, in cases, to closures. Most recently, Arizona Summit School of Law in Phoenix, announced it would be shuttering.