COSTA MESA (CBSLA.com) — Students, alumni and professors of Whittier Law School are outraged by the board of trustees’ decision to close, making it the first fully accredited law school in the country to shut down.
Whittier Law School is affiliated with former President Richard Nixon’s alma mater Whittier College, but was relocated to a campus in Costa Mesa in 1997. It received its full accreditation from the American Bar Association in 1985.
“We are obviously devastated by the Whittier College Board of Trustees’ decision to discontinue the program of legal education at Whittier Law School,” officials said in a statement.
Dozens of students picketed outside the Whittier College administration building Friday to protest the closing.
“It brought us all to tears,” student Awa Henderson said. “We had no knowledge, we were not aware this was taking place. This was just brought on us abruptly. It’s really disappointing.”
Many were frustrated and disappointed with the timing of the announcement, just two weeks before finals.
“They tell us that this law school’s closing, we get no dates, we get no plan, we get no steps moving forward, it was it, it was almost a slap in the face,” student Kristopher Escobedo said.
No closing date has been announced, but Whittier College recently completed a sale of the Costa Mesa campus for a profit of nearly $13 million, according to a lawsuit filed by a group of law professors seeking a temporary restraining order to block the school’s closure. A judge denied the request, according to the Orange County Register.
“The board made the decision, the very difficult decision, of not enrolling a class for the fall of 2017, and, in due time, discontinuing the law program,” school spokesperson Ana Lilia Barraza told CBS2 Friday.
Barraza said the decision wasn’t based on finances and had nothing to do with the sale of campus property, but admitted there has been a decline in students seeking legal education.
“Our top priority will be to make sure that all students currently enrolled have the opportunity to finish their legal education,” Barraza said.
371 students attend the law school. About 150 of them will graduate next month. The school says it is still formulating plans for the rest of the students.
“There’s been a lot of efforts that have gone to trying to keep it open,” Barraza said. “No one wants to make this kind of decision. So, this was seen as the best decision for the law school.”
The job market for attorneys has been rocky since the Great Recession. More corporations are making do with fewer in-house lawyers, while sites like Nolo are taking run-of-the-mill legal contracts straight to consumers. An industry magazine also found earlier this year that robots could increasingly take the place of humans when it comes to sorting and analyzing lawsuits and other documents.
“As is well known, the last few years have been extremely difficult for law schools across the country. Whittier Law School felt those challenges keenly and we took significant steps to address them,” the statement said.
Whittier College President Sharon Herzberger told the Wall Street Journal bluntly that students were not being prepared well enough to pass the bar exam and secure legal jobs. Fewer than a quarter of Whittier Law school’s graduates who took the July 2016 bar exam passed the test, the worst performance among accredited law schools in the state, according to the Journal.
Out of 128 graduates in 2016, only 45 went on to find jobs that required a law degree.