The Unaccredited Law School & Their Big Law Alum

June 27, 2016, 8:28 PM

One of California’s unaccredited law schools is closing up shop .

The Riverside-based California Southern Law School — where tuition is $39,000 — announced the closure on its site and gave press interviews. Founded by the late Riverside County Superior Court judge Elwood Rich in 1971, the school has been managed by his sons, Greg and Brian Rich, who now plan to retire.

From the school’s website:

This is Your Last Opportunity

If you have been delaying fulfilling your desire to become a practicing attorney this is [your] last chance to be a member of the Class of 2020.

This fall California Southern Law School will be enrolling its final First Year Law Class. After August 29, 2016 no more new students will be admitted.

Last year, the L.A. Times reported that nearly 9 out of every 10 students at unaccredited law schools drop out, and of the few who completed classes, only 1 in 5 ever became a lawyer.

What we wanted to know is: Did any of the students ever reach the elite ranks of Big Law?

The recent closure piqued our interest to scan the list of alumni at little old California Southern Law School to see how it sizes up to the aggregate figures, and also try to find a lawyer who worked at a large law firm.

After a quick scan that showed public defenders, superior court judges, district attorneys, and the graduates who hung out a shingle, we spotted a lawyer who did indeed work in Big Law: Barbara A. Keough, who was an associate at Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith for five years.

Keough, who was a litigator at Lewis Brisbois in San Bernardino until she left for a small firm last June, focused on employment law.

The five-year stint at what is affectionately known around Big Law Business as ‘Louie B!’, occurred roughly 20 years after she graduated from California Southern Law School in 1990. Her first jobs included time at Farmer’s Insurance and a smaller firm.

Of her recent move to the smaller, 20-lawyer firm, Cota Cole, Keough said: “The concept of partnership was appealing to me to have a say in the manner in which the firm was run... Sometimes you get that in a smaller firm, more so than with a larger firm.”

But how did going to an unaccredited law school influence her career path in the first place? Lewis Brisbois ranked among the 100 largest law firms in the country in the latest American Lawyer, with $406 million in revenue.

A Lewis Brisbois spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Here’s what Keough had to say:

“There are certain firms in the inland empire who look strictly at an applicant’s standing, and which school they attended: If the school is ABA accredited or not accredited... I was pregnant during my second year in law school. It was convenient not to drive to Los Angeles to enjoy an ABA accredited law school. Accredited, or not accredited, we all have to take the bar and go through the same process to become attorneys. We all have to learn the same rules. It’s unfortunate that employers hinge on the accreditation.”

The school’s closure comes as state bar authorities have started requiring unaccredited law schools to report attrition rates .

Brian Rich, who serves as the school’s registrar, said that if he and his brother Greg were 15 years younger, they would plan on running the school another 15 years.

“If somebody approaches us and wants to talk to us about letting someone else keep it going, we are certainly open to discussions,” he said. “It’s our opinion that it’s such a niche market that we don’t anticipate anyone coming forward.”

(UPDATED: This story has been updated to include comment from Brian Rich. His title has also been corrected.)

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