Dean of Miles Law School addresses poor Alabama Bar passage rate - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

Dean of Miles Law School addresses poor Alabama Bar passage rates

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J. Richet Pearson, Dean of Miles Law School. (abc3340.com) J. Richet Pearson, Dean of Miles Law School. (abc3340.com)

Hundreds of law students are in Montgomery this week sitting for the Alabama State Bar. Passing the test is required to practice law in Alabama. The state's accredited law schools, including the University of Alabama, Cumberland, and Jones Law School had passage rates  between 88 and 91 percent last July.

There are two unaccredited law schools in Alabama. Birmingham School of Law, which had a bar passage rate of 37 percent. There's also Miles Law School, where last July 35 students took the Bar, but only three passed. That's a rate of 8.6 percent.

Records from the Alabama Bar passage rankings for the past three years show the low number for Miles last summer is not a fluke. In 2011, Miles had 26 students sit for the bar, and none of them passed. The year before, 24 students took the bar and just three passed.

Granted, Miles Law School is a night school, and it is unaccredited. Still, student pay more than $100 per credit hour. Spend four years completing the course work, and that's nearly $14,000.

And if they don't pass the bar they can't practice law. That raises the question, is a diploma from Miles Law School worth the paper it's written on.

"Certainly there is room for improvement and the law school is implementing measures to enhance the bar passage rate," said J. Richet Pearson, the Dean of Miles Law School.

Pearson says the Bar passage numbers do not determine the value of the program.

"The story really has not been told. And to frame it only with empirical or statistical information is really something that is not accurate," said Pearson.

The numbers from the Alabama State Bar are accurate. Year after year, Miles Law School continues to have the lowest percentage of students passing the Alabama Bar. But why?

Dean Pearson defends the curriculum, including a mandatory bar review course that  students must pass to graduate.

"It certainly covers the subjects that will be covered on the bar examination. And again the study of law is cumulative. From the first day they walk into class, until the last day they leave, they are taught about the legal principals and the black leather law," said Pearson.

Yet, the numbers don't lie. The best passage rate for Miles Law School students in recent years happened in 2010, when 24 students sat for the bar, and just three passed.

Miles law school is a four-year evening program. Many of its students have full-time jobs and families. And LSAT test scores are not required for acceptance.

"(Sweat) Miles Law School is preying on people who either could not get accepted into another law school, or can't afford another law school. (Pearson) Well I would certainly take strong exception to that assertion. These are students who had a dream, a dream that was deferred for whatever reason. We offer them an opportunity to realize that dream. (Sweat) But then their dreams are crushed in the end because, at the end of the day, they can't practice law. (Pearson) Again, I would have to take strong exception to that inference. First of all students come to us voluntarily seeking a law degree. They come for various reasons, as you mentioned, some come not just to practice law, but some come just for increasing their knowledge or bettering their positions at their already established careers."

Pearson challenged us to find Miles Law Students and get their take on the program. We did.

Judge Carole Smitherman, and her husband, Senator Rodger Smitherman are Miles Law School graduates. They now teach at the law school. Both say students must dedicate hours outside of class if they plan to pass the bar.

"The problem becomes the dedication of time. As Rodger said, if you don't dedicate all your time, with just a little bit of personal and family time, you won't be successful," said Judge Smitherman.

Tamika Whitt-Wright is a Miles Law School Student, and full time eight grade math teacher. She enrolled in 2011, when the school's passage rate was zero percent. She knows the dismal bar numbers, and agrees with the Smithermans.

Whitt-Wright is enrolled in two bar prep courses outside of her normal course load.   

"I'm dedicated to at least two hours a day where I'm just doing multi state questions, practicing my writing. I feel like I'll be prepared because I 'I've been preparing since day one," said Whitt-Wright.

Pearson said, "Statistics are statistics, so what I would say in response to that is look at the actual testimony of the practicing. It's possible, it's doable, and it has been done and it is being done"

Pearson says, since 1974, Miles Law School has more than 160 practicing attorneys. We asked her how many of those were from the last five years. She says she doesn't have exact numbers, but there is a good amount, though not the majority.
  
The Alabama State Bar statistics say from 2010 to 2012, 85 Miles students took the bar exam. Just six passed.

Miles Law School is separate from Miles College. They are separate legal entities, and have separate board of trustees.

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