The private law school once boasted bar-passage rates of 97 percent but has seen its percentages drop to 25 percent among first-time test takers in Arizona.

Private law school in downtown Phoenix has seen its bar-passage rates drop to 25 percent for those who took test for the first time.

The American Bar Association put Arizona Summit Law School on probation Monday for a variety of issues, including low passage rates on the bar exam and the school’s admission policies.

The private law school, founded in 2004, once boasted bar-passage rates as high as 97 percent but has seen its percentages drop to 25 percent for those taking the test for the first time.

The ABA is one of several agencies that accredit or regulate Arizona Summit, which is owned by a for-profit company, InfiLaw Corp.  InfiLaw also owns law schools in North Carolina and Florida.

ABA has directed the school to develop an improvement plan by May 15. The ABA also will send a representative to review the school’s admissions data and methodology and the overall rigor of the program.

The bar, in a letter on Monday, said that Arizona Summit is out of compliance regarding admission practices, academic standards, and support and bar passage.

The letter says the law school is now in a position where “only immediate and substantial action can bring about sufficient change to put the Law School on a realistic path back to being in compliance within the time allowed.”

The ABA expects to review the school’s progress in November.

Passage rates among those taking the test for the first time at Arizona Summit peaked at 97 percent in 2008 but fell to 55 percent in July 2014 and 25 percent in July 2016. Results of the February bar exam won’t be available until May 12.. The bar exam is scheduled twice a year.

There are a couple of ways a school can meet ABA’s bar passage requirements. At least 75 percent of a law school’s graduates must pass the bar within five years of graduation; or a school must have a 75 percent pass rate for at least three of those five years.

Arizona Summit’s rates on those measures was not immediately known.

The school’s president, Donald Lively, said in a statement on Monday that he is not in a position to make extensive comments on the ABA’s decision.

“However, I can say that we will continue to be taking the steps required by the ABA to demonstrate full compliance with its standards,” he said.

School officials said recently that they have made several changes aimed at improving bar passage. They recently announced an affiliation with a non-profit university, Bethune-Cookman, that they hope will benefit students by being able to use the university’s academic support services and marketing.

MORE: Read the letter sent to Arizona Summit on Monday

Summit’s sister school, the Charlotte School of Law, was put on probation by the ABA last year for two years because of concerns over its bar-passage rates. The U.S. Department of Education in December yanked the Charlotte school’s eligibility for students to receive federal student loans.

The Charlotte School of Law and Arizona Summit are the only two schools listed as being on probation.

All three InfiLaw schools were founded more than a decade ago under the mission of diversifying the legal profession.

Arizona Summit has won awards for its diverse student population, which is about 43 percent minority students.

School officials have said many of Summit’s students come to law school in a “catch-up mode.” Some are from poor families.

But legal experts and law-school watchdogs have questioned whether Arizona Summit admitted too many students. The school, formerly known as the Phoenix School of Law, once had as many as 1,000 students as it admitted more students with lower Law School Admission Test scores.

That, combined with a change in curriculum, resulted in fewer students passing the bar on the first try, officials said.

School official said they have made several changes aimed at improving students’ chances of passing the bar the first time. This includes assigning faculty mentors to students and shrinking the student body to about 300.

Arizona Summit would be at a distinct disadvantage if the school loses ABA approval.

The ABA accredits more than 200 law schools, and the country’s top law schools carry ABA designations. Also, graduating from an ABA-approved school broadens a student’s legal opportunities. In some states, students must graduate from an ABA-approved law school in order to take the bar exam in that state.

About Arizona Summit Law School

Arizona Summit is one of three law schools in the state. 

Location: Central Avenue and Washington Street, downtown Phoenix.

Enrollment: About 300.

Owner: InfiLaw Corp., a privately held, for-profit company in Naples, Fla.

Bar-passage rates: First-time test takers: 25 percent.  State average is 63 percent. Arizona State University is 77 percent. University of Arizona is 74 percent.

Average GPA of incoming students: 2.96. ASU is 3.64. UA is 3.57.

Median LSAT score of students: 143. ASU is 161. UA is 161.

Minority student percentage: 43 percent. ASU is 27 percent. UA is 31 percent.

Sources: Arizona Supreme Court; Standard 509 form, American Bar Association

Reach the reporter at 602-444-8072 or [email protected].

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