FLORIDA A&M UNIVERSITY’S COLLEGE OF LAW Dean LeRoy Pernell, at the podium, along with FAMU President James H. Ammons, far left, and former FAMU President Frederick S. Humphries, makes remarks regarding the ABA granting full approval to Florida A&M University’s College of Law.
A little over a year ago, the Florida A&M University College of Law got a report listing “13 areas of concern” from the ABA that could keep the law school, provisionally accredited in 2004, from getting its full ABA accreditation.
“I think that the issues that were raised in the past reviews created a blueprint for us on the issues we had to address,” said Dean LeRoy Pernell, who was hired to run the law school shortly before the report was issued.
And address the issues is what the school did. The ABA Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar granted full accreditation to the FAMU College of Law on July 30.
“With the progress we knew had been made in the past year and a half, I was pretty confident those issues had been addressed when the [final] review team came in,” Pernell said. “It’s a team effort. There’s a commitment that needed to be made and was made by administration, by faculty, and even by students; one a commitment not to give up and, two, address issues in a very specific, fair, and transparent way. And we did that.”
FAMU officials were jubilant at the news.
“I applaud Dean Pernell, his administration, faculty, and students for reaching this milestone,” said FAMU President James H. Ammons. “This achievement speaks volumes about their hard work, dedication, and commitment.”
Ammons announced the council’s decision regarding accreditation during a press conference held in the ceremonial moot courtroom of the FAMU College of Law in downtown Orlando. He was joined by FAMU Board of Trustees Chair C. William Jennings, Pernell, former FAMU President Frederick Humphries, dozens of university administrators, law school alumni, friends, and supporters.
Gov. Charlie Crist released a statement praising the accomplishment, saying, “I want to congratulate Florida A&M University College of Law on earning full accreditation. Their commitment to academic excellence is helping prepare future attorneys from Florida and around the globe to meet the legal needs of their communities. This well-deserved achievement is the result of a college-wide dedication to enhancing student services and programs and increasing education and career opportunities.”
Dean Pernell said the law school overcame much to get the accreditation.
“Critics of our school once said that the mountain was too steep to climb,” he said. “When faced with a mountain you have to cross, the slope is irrelevant. The council’s decision is a reflection of the resilience, perseverance, and commitment of the university, our students, faculty, and staff to the mission of the FAMU College of Law.”
Under the rules of the ABA, the council’s decision is final and effective immediately, subject to review by the ABA House of Delegates. While the House of Delegates may request reconsideration of the council’s decision, the group has never done so in the history of the ABA (and didn’t this year).
“Full accreditation by the ABA ensures that the 500-plus FAMU College of Law graduates can continue to sit for the bar exam in any state in the nation, and it reaffirms what we have always known: that we have and will continue to provide our students with a great legal education,” Pernell said.
Gaining full accreditation is not an end goal for the law school, he said, but rather the beginning of reaching for even more ambitious targets.
“We know accreditation is just the beginning of the things we need to do,” Pernell said. “We’re going in a number of different directions. We continue to spread the word about the school and continue to attract high quality students, not just in Florida. We continue to look to develop centers of excellence in the law school that will address specific research on issues affecting the school, the state, and the nation.”
The school will be looking to improve its skill training programs “so our students are prepared to hit the ground running,” he said, and improve the bar exam passage rate for graduates.
Pernell attributed the school’s successful accreditation campaign to hard work by administrators, faculty, and students. He noted during the critical report, based on a visit to the college’s Orlando campus the previous October, the law school was going through a tumultuous period. Until Pernell was hired in January 2008, the school had gone almost two years without a dean.
Faculty and student morale was low, and FAMU itself was mired in a financial crisis. Problems included not enough law faculty, Pernell said.
“The more concrete factors were getting more stable leadership in place both at the law school and the university and is certainly something the site review teams and the committee on accreditation made special note of,” he said. “We also infused a significant number of new faculty into the law school. The school was understaffed, and I think we were able to bring in great talented new people.
“This is not a slight on the faculty that was here. I think we had quality faculty here and clearly more was needed to create the type of atmosphere that was needed.”
The changes included the addition of 16 nationally recognized faculty members and a new Center for International Law and Justice (CILJ) at the start of the fall 2008 semester. Law faculty publication and scholarship output increased; the law school was recognized as the most diverse law school in the nation by U.S. News and World Report; and was ranked seventh nationally for providing clinical opportunities by National Jurist magazine. The campus was enhanced also with the opening of the FAMU Café in December 2008 and the FAMU Bookstore in January 2009.
The latter were among the steps taken by the school to improve services for students. Pernell said the school also created a vision for itself, which does not end with accreditation.
“Our goal was never to be just an accredited law school,” he said. “What we are about is having a high-quality institution that takes a leadership role in legal education.”
The FAMU College of Law becomes one of only 189 law schools fully approved by the ABA. To remain in compliance with ABA standards, the FAMU College of Law will undergo its next full site evaluation in three years, and then reviews every seven years thereafter.
The FAMU College of Law was reestablished in 2000 and opened its doors to 89 students in 2002. The ABA granted the law school provisional accreditation in August 2004. Since that time, the FAMU College of Law continued to grow and pursue its mission. Pernell estimated when the August semester opens, the school will have around 630 students.
“This is a significant milestone for FAMU,” Ammons said. “But it’s just the beginning of a long journey to make the College of Law a premiere institution of legal education, committed to its history of making an indelible mark on the community and the world.”