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Savannah Law School Is Latest to Shut Down

  Yet another law campus is closing shop. Administrators at the short-lived Savannah Law School informed students late Wednesday that it will shutter at the end of the spring semester. Details of the closure were scant Thursday morning, but students told the Savannah Morning News that the school’s leadership said it had sold the law school’s building and would not be accepting new students. Savannah, which opened in 2012,  will become the forth law school in the past year to either close and announce plans to wind down, joining Indiana Tech Law School; Whittier Law School; and the Charlotte School of Law. A fifth school, Indiana’s Valparaiso University School of Law, is not accepting new students as it seeks to merge with another law school or relocate. The closures come as law schools struggle to attract applicants amid a tight job market and years of declining national bar pass rates. Dean Malcolm Morris did not respond to calls for comment Thursday, nor did the school’s marketing department. The only official indication of the school’s impending end was a notice on its website that it is not accepting applications for 2018. The website instead directs people to apply to Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School. Savannah Law School is not a stand-alone law school. Rather, it is a branch campus of John Marshall in Atlanta, and is accredited by the American Bar Association under the umbrella of the Atlanta school. Students learned of the closure at a town hall meeting at 5 p.m. Wednesday. Faculty were informed several hours earlier. Associate Professor Andrew Wright lamented the closure in a Facebook post Wednesday. “My heart aches for my colleagues and students,” he wrote. “I also feel terrible for our deposited prospective students, alumni, and broader Savannah community. Our stakeholders deserve better.” Savannah has about a dozen faculty members and roughly 200 students. Students were told that current third-year students will be able to graduate in May, but first- and second-year students will have to complete their degrees at another location since the campus is being sold. The ABA requires shuttering law schools to provide a “teach-out plan” to ensure current students can finish. It was unclear Thursday if current students would have to attend school at the main campus in Atlanta, which is 250 miles away. John Marshall, in 2011 announced plans to establish a branch campus in Savannah, Georgia’s second-largest city, which at the time lacked a law school. It opened the following year with 45 students, although its then-dean, Richardson Lynn, said he hoped to grow that number to 450. While figures are not available specifically for the Savannah campus, ABA data shows that J.D. enrollment at the combined campuses fell 37 percent from 2011 to 2017. It’s the second time that the Atlanta law school is pulling out of Savannah. It had a branch campus there during the 1970s and early 1980s. Savannah operates out of 110,000-square-foot historic former hospital on the edge of the city’s famed Forsyth Park, which could offer a clue as to why the location was attractive to a buyer. But the decision to close is a blow to current students. “For a small law school, we are so closely knit,” third-year student Erica Drew told the Savannah Morning News. “Stellar faculty, stellar students. It’s just so heartbreaking.”