Getting accepted into law school is no easy feat. Scoring highly enough on the LSAT to attend law school shows that a student is determined, analytical, attentive, and smart. To thrive in an academic environment such as a law school, students usually must be intellectually curious, passionate, ethical, and tenacious. Law programs ask a great deal from their students, and most are able to meet these challenges in order to finish the program and obtain their degrees.
Even the brightest, hardest-working law students can fall behind sometimes, however. Between five to seven percent of law school students don't continue past the first year. The reasons for stopping their pursuit of obtaining a law degree are usually either the challenging nature of the coursework or personal issues such as injury, illness, finances, fatigue, or disillusionment. Although some law students are dismissed due to behavioral issues, academic progression accounts for the largest portion of law student dismissals.
After all the work you've put in to get to law school, not to mention the funds you may have invested to afford it, the last thing you want is to be dismissed before finishing your program. If you are facing a dismissal due to progression or academic issues, consider contacting a student defense attorney for specialized advice.
Law School Progression Issues
Progression refers to how you're moving through your law program from an academic perspective—your progress toward your degree. When you are having progression issues, it means that your academic performance is not up to the law school's standards. One bad grade on an exam or paper usually isn't enough to make your program consider dismissal, however. Typically, you must demonstrate sub-standard performance on a consistent basis.
Most law schools will set out these standards in a student handbook for you to reference. At the University of Minnesota Law School, for example, students are automatically dismissed if their cumulative grade point average is below 2.000 at the end of the second semester of legal education or at the end of any subsequent semester. Students with a grade point average below 2.600 must go on academic probation and fulfill certain requirements in order to avoid dismissal.
New York University Law School has extensive rules regarding academic progress as well. Some examples include:
- A student cannot graduate without having obtained a grade of D or better in all required courses
- Students who fail required courses must re-register for the course
- Students who have accumulated a significant number of F, “uncompensated” D, or INC grades in their courses that they are not likely to graduate without exceeding the 15 credit-hour per semester maximum will be dismissed
Most law schools take progression seriously because they're concerned about upholding reputations for high academic achievement. Getting dismissed for academic performance is common among law students, but that doesn't mean schools aren't willing to work with you. Some programs may put you on academic probation before dismissing you, giving you a semester to work on improving your grade point average. They may also ask you to complete additional assignments whilst on probation to demonstrate your commitment to having a better performance.
In law school, the grades in your courses may not be the only standards you have to meet. Many schools also have requirements concerning professional rules of conduct and readiness for passing the bar. Failing to meet these standards can also put you at risk for academic dismissal.
Academic Grounds for Dismissal
When law schools dismiss students, it's usually on one of three grounds: academic, behavioral, or professional. Grounds for academic dismissal vary by school, and it's important that you consult your law school's student handbook to understand what these are. Many schools tend to have similar grounds for academic dismissal, however, which could include:
- Failing to complete readings or prepare for courses on a consistent basis
- Failing to complete and submit required coursework repeatedly
- Failing to maintain a grade point average above a minimum threshold
- Failing to complete academic probation requirements in a timely or satisfactory manner
- Failing to take, complete, and pass required courses and exams repeatedly
- Multiple withdrawals from attempted courses
- Failing to enroll for the minimum required credits in consecutive semesters
- Failing to make progress toward graduation
- Failing to complete clinical hours
Depending on the grounds for your potential academic dismissal, a student defense attorney can take a specialized approach to help you avoid being dismissed from your law program.
Law Schools' Authority to Dismiss Students
Every law school has standards and policies and maintains the right to dismiss students who do not adhere to them. Most law schools also must incorporate dismissal policies of the university or institution they belong to as well. The Student Handbook at the University of Chicago Law School, for example, states that students must follow larger University policies as well as regulations specific to the Law School. Many schools also rely on their state's version of the American Bar Association's Model Rules of Professional Conduct when formulating dismissal policies.
When it comes to progression and academic standing, however, most law schools are allowed to determine their own academic policies. Law school faculty and administration must ensure that rules pertaining to academic standing reflect the school's degree requirements.
In most situations, challenging the law school's authority to dismiss isn't reasonable. With the help of a student defense attorney, however, there are some instances when students can seek to prevent dismissal from their law school:
- It exceeds the school's lawful authority
- It compromises the school's institutional interests
- It fails to account for mitigating circumstances
- It is not based on justifiable grounds with school policy
- It is based on erroneous attributions of misconduct
Legal Limits on Student Dismissal From Law School
Public education institutions must guarantee due process to their students in dismissal cases. Law schools at public universities such as the University of Virginia and University of Michigan-Ann Arbor have a legal requirement for due process. Private universities such as Yale, Harvard, and Stanford do not have the same legal obligations but generally abide by the same rules. They also refuse to dismiss students arbitrarily or capriciously and provide clear notice with a fair hearing.
Another constraint on dismissal for many law schools is contractual, as many policies promise or imply dismissal only with good cause. There are also tort law protections in place against defamation, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress when schools pursue student dismissals. A specialized student defense attorney can help you determine what your law school's authority rests on if you are facing a dismissal and guide you on the right approach to take to prevent the dismissal or get it reversed.
Law schools have policies regarding dismissals and do dismiss a significant number of students in order to enforce these policies. That doesn't mean dismissal is always in the law school's interest, however. Dismissing students lowers enrollment numbers, which has an impact on program resources and the school's finances. Dismissals that result from progression issues can also reveal weaknesses in a program's teaching or academic support that must be addressed. It can lead to reputational damage for the program or individual professors.
Dismissals sever relationships not only with the dismissed student but also with the other students, professors, family members, and alumni who support them. Maintaining a strong network of support is vital for many law schools, and disrupting it could be detrimental.
Internal and External Factors That Cause Dismissal
Dismissals from law school can be caused by students or by external factors outside students' control. Academic dismissals are usually based on incomplete assignments or credits or below-minimum grades. Some schools may allow students to work on getting back on track toward their degree through a progression plan. Students who aren't able to reach the expected academic standards after this plan could end up being dismissed, and the institution would consider it a student-based cause for dismissal.
When the potential dismissal is based on an internal factor, the student has a better chance of avoiding being dismissed. Students with academic issues may be able to convince the school to let them stay by adopting new practices, devoting more time to coursework, or employing additional resources. Law schools are more willing to work with you than you might think.
An external factor for dismissal would be something the student has no control over. Examples of external factors that might affect progression are:
- A car accident head injury that results in mental fatigue or impairment
- Physical illness that leads to immobility, missed classes and assignments, or isolation from academic resources
- A job layoff or income loss that causes financial issues or defaults
A student defense attorney can help you demonstrate to your school that these events or conditions explain your failure to meet the law school's standards.
What's At Stake in a Law Student Dismissal?
You probably don't have to be reminded of the impact a dismissal from law school has on your legal education. But the consequences can be much more far-reaching. You won't be able to re-enroll at the law school that dismissed you, of course, but you may also have trouble transferring your credits to another law school. Credits are unlikely to transfer between schools, and you may have to begin your degree from the start at the new school unless you can prove the dismissal from your former school was peculiar. If you have to start over at a new law school due to academic performance or progression issues, you'll likely have to demonstrate improvement in this area to the new law school. The new institution might require you to complete remedial coursework following the dismissal, for example.
An academic dismissal affects more than academics, however. It could also mean loss of university housing, transportation, healthcare, scholarships, and the acceleration of student debt repayments. If you are an international student, you could lose your visa and legal residency if your law school dismisses you. Dismissal also negatively impacts your future career, as you'll be unable to obtain your law license and practice law as planned. It can even damage your social and family relationships when you are dismissed from law school.
How an Experienced Student Defense Lawyer Can Help
The prospect of dismissal from law school—for any reason—can be unnerving for a law school student. As most law students tend to be meticulous, organized, and driven overachievers, facing dismissal can be especially worrisome. There may be a web of academic customs, laws, policies, and procedures that govern dismissals, and making sense of all these overlapping elements can be difficult even for the most skilled law students. Remember the old adage, “The lawyer who represents themselves has a fool for a client.” This maxim applies to law students as well as practicing attorneys.
Representation from an expert in law student affairs can help you feel at ease and increase your chances of getting a favorable outcome. When you are facing a dismissal due to progression issues, it's likely you may have other things going on in your life that you have to deal with. Trying to negotiate with the administration of your law school when you're already under pressure from your personal life won't benefit your situation.
When dealing with a potential dismissal from your law school, get the expert help you need. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped hundreds of law students across the country to avoid, reverse, or overcome school dismissal. Safeguard your investment in your education and contact Lento Law Firm today by calling 888-535-3686.