The Charleston School of Law's bar exam pass rate got a boost when the state Supreme Court dropped a section of the test last month.
The improved pass rate, however, had no effect on the school's accreditation, says Bucky Askew, the American Bar Association's legal education consultant.
A scoring error on one test led the state Supreme Court to throw out a section of the July 2007 bar exam and change 20 grades from failing to passing. Eight of those students were graduates of the Charleston School of Law. The change increased the school's bar exam pass rate from 65 to 70 percent.
Those benefiting from the court's decision included the daughter of a state lawmaker and the daughter of a circuit court judge, according to the Supreme Court's Bar Admissions Office.
The State newspaper reported Sunday that rumors have been circulating in South Carolina's legal community for more than a month that the grade changes were done partly to improve the school's chances for full accreditation.
The school currently is provisionally accredited, the highest level of accreditation possible for the 3-year-old school.
Charleston School of Law officials and Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal deny the allegation.
"The state of the Charleston school had absolutely no impact on the decision we made. Our decision was without any information on the identities of the examinees by way of their name or ... their school," Toal told The State.
Askew said one of the factors the association considers in deciding whether to grant full accreditation to a law school, a process that takes three to five years after it earns provisional accreditation, is how well a school's academic program prepares students to pass their state's bar exam.
The association, however, hasn't set a standard pass rate, he said.
The association is considering adopting such standards early next year, he said. Under the proposed standards, the Charleston School of Law's initial 65 percent pass rate would have been an acceptable rate for the school's first graduating class, Askew said.
The Charleston School of Law, which opened in 2004, "has not been found out of compliance with our standards," Askew said.
He also said that the association traditionally has taken a second look at the academic programs of existing law schools with bar exam rates that fall below 70 percent.
Law school dean Richard Gershon said that based on informal conversations, he thinks that out of the 20 additional students who passed the bar exam after the section was dropped, two graduated from the University of South Carolina's law school, eight were from the Charleston School of Law and 10 were out-of-state students.
Alex Sanders, a founder of the Charleston School of Law, said new law schools often have first-time pass rates below 50 percent. Whether the Charleston school's rate was 65 percent or 70 percent doesn't matter.
Either way, the school had "a very respectable" rate, Sanders said.