Don’t refresh your screen, yes, another law school is in the process of closing. Savannah Law School, a branch of the John Marshall Law School will be shutting down. The shutdown comes approximately six whole years after it opened. It joins a growing club of law schools across the U.S. that have closed or are in the process of closing. The club includes Thomas Cooley’s Ann Arbor campus which closed approximately five years after opening and Indiana Tech Law School which closed after about four years of operation. In addition, we’ve seen Whittier Law School and Charlotte School of Law close. And while not officially closing, (for now) Valparaiso Law School has announced it is suspending new student enrollment and exploring an affiliation or relocation.
Why is the school closing? Savanah Law School said there was an “unforeseen national decline” in legal jobs and the law school applicant pool and a viable program could not be sustained at that location. In response, some students have filed a punitive class action for breach of contract and negligence, seeking relief, attorney fees and punitive damages. Stephen Lowry is representing the students and said, “These students attended Savannah Law School in good faith, with the expectation that they could complete a law degree in Savannah from an accredited institution”. “We hope to help these students secure an adequate recovery in light of this devastating turn of events.”
Savannah Law School and John Marshall Law School are named as defendants and accused of “false and misleading representations and omissions” about financial stability, the grading curve and noncompliance with American Bar Association accreditation standards, as well as denying students the opportunity to take a full course of legal studies and obtain a J.D. where they started.
So, what’s next for a Savanah Law student?
Transferring to another law school may be the best course of action. But even that option may come with a punch to the stomach. The complaint stated, “Following the announcement of the closure, students were notified that any who sought to transfer their credits to another school would receive a letter informing that school that the school used a deflated grading curve—that is, that its grades are curved to a 2.7 rather than a customary 2.9 or 3.0”.
So, what exactly is Savannah Law School offering to its students?
Initially, the school was expected to close in 2018 and it seems to have offered students a one-time $2,000 scholarship to transfer to John Marshall’s Atlanta location. Students could certainly transfer to another institution as well, and likely bring those de-valued grades with them.
However, the school later made several changes to the initial transition plan that was released. The Savannah campus will now cease operations over the next five years. It seems that students currently at the Savannah campus have a few different options: continue their coursework in Savannah (albeit at a different location), transfer to the main campus in Atlanta, apply to visit at another institution or apply to transfer. How these changes will impact the lawsuit is still unknown.
What these closings can impart to prospective law students is a reminder: do your due diligence when selecting a law school. Given recent ABA sanctions and school closings, prospective law students must look at law school with a new level of scrutiny. It is a big investment. Prospective students need to review the school’s ranking and data related to bar passage and employment percentages. In addition, determine if there are any relevant ABA reports or sanctions associated with the school. Ask the tough questions about how the data is compiled and understand what variables may be missing. Don’t settle for answers that sound too good be true. At the end of the day, it’s your time and money that’s on the line.