The National Jurist - Back to School 2017 - 9
force also found much reason to keep the
law school open.
For much of the past year, the board of
trustees had been engaged in negotiations
with another party to acquire the law school
building and take over the law school. The
building sold in March for $35 million.
However, in mid-April the buyer decided not to take over operation of the law
school. The board voted to close the law
school one week later.
Whittier College has maintained that it
explored all possible options but that none
was feasible, given the drop in enrollment
and graduates' poor employment record.
While only 28.9 percent of 2016 graduates
landed full-time, bar-exam-required jobs
within 10 months of graduation, the law
school did better in non-traditional jobs
and improved its overall employment rate
from 55 percent in 2011 to 66.1 percent in
The school has embarked on a plan to
help the remaining students complete their
"Since then, we have been in constant
communication with the law school community, and we are moving forward with
the teach-out plan approved by the ABA,"
A teach out is a written course of
action that a closing school files with the
Department of Education to ensure that
its students are treated fairly with regard to
finishing their programs of study. This typically allows the institution to begin cutting
expenses without running the risk of losing
federal loan options. It also ensures a quality program for the remaining students.
However, many questions still exist. The
school posted information on its website
about moving forward and noted that it was
unsure how many faculty would remain and
whether classes would continue to be held at
the Costa Mesa location or would be moved
"to another convenient campus or location"
at the end of this academic year.
Given the uncertainty, many first-year
students sought transfers to other schools,
Escobedo said. For second-year students
such as himself, it was more difficult.
Normally, law schools require a student
take at least two years of credits, so a transferring second-year student may have to
retake classes to meet that requirement.
"I know a lot of students who have a
life goal of where they want to be in a few
years, so they feel obligated to stay," he said.
Initially, Escobedo was filled with fear
over the closure. He said he wondered what
it would mean for his career. Would prospective employers undervalue his degree?
Later, he began to think of the situation
as a challenge - one of many he will face in
"This is not going to define my career,"
he said. "It's a bump in the road. It won't
He said he chose Whittier Law School
because of its congenial atmosphere. It
wasn't cutthroat, as other law schools can
"Whittier didn't have that," he said.
"We're all in it together, or we're not in it
Now, he has key questions, such as
whether career counseling will still be available or whether the law school's counseling services will be absorbed by Whittier
College. If the latter is the case, he will
worry. Law school graduates have needs
that are different from undergraduates.
The law profession is ever-changing, and
employment challenges remain. Plus, the
undergraduate campus is 45 minutes away.
It wasn't just students who were blindsided. Jason Cohn, a 1997 Whittier Law
School graduate and an adjunct professor,
had no idea the school was about to close.
"I find it very unfortunate for the current students," he said. "I'm not certain if
they're going to have the same resources
others have had going down the road."
A founding partner of Cohn &
Swartzon, a personal injury law firm, he
was not teaching at the time the closure
was announced because his practice was
too busy. He was aware that the school was
facing troubles, but didn't think it would
lead to this. He enjoyed his education at
Whittier, he said.
"I got what I put into it," he said. "The
professors were always available. I took the
bar appropriately trained."
Patrick Sweeney is another Whittier graduate - a prestigious one. He was the recipient of the school's Distinguished Alumni
Award in a gala ceremony on April 1.
Less than a month later, the school
announced its closure.
"I was shocked," he said.
Sweeney, who graduated from Whittier
Law School in 1995, is a leading attorney in
the video gaming industry. He established
the Interactive Entertainment Law Group
in 2013. He was drawn to Whittier Law
School because he wanted to work in the
entertainment field, he said. He was not
"The quality was great," he said.
He's not overly worried about the students. It's not as if top L.A. firms had been
beating a path to Whittier Law School to
"That's never been the case," Sweeney
He said he's an example of what hard
work can produce. He found a niche - the
video gaming industry - and went about
becoming a leader in the field. That kind of
tenacity is more important than which law
school you graduated from, Sweeney said.
"Many students have had to make their
own opportunities or find them on their
own," he said. "And I don't think that's a
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