ABA Accreditation: What You Need to Know

If you’ve ever asked yourself what ABA accreditation means, this post is for you.

Who is responsible for ABA accreditation?

The American Bar Association (ABA) has been the nationally recognized accreditor of U.S. law schools since 1952. Per U.S. Department of Education (DOE) requirements, the accrediting arm is actually the Council and the Accreditation Committee of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar (how’s that for a long name?). The Council and the Section are independent from the ABA, to comply with the DOE, but we still recognize the ABA as the overarching organization responsible for approval.
21 voting members sit on the Council; a maximum of 10 of these members can be law school deans and faculty members. Judges, practicing attorneys, law students, and public members make up the remaining members of the Council.

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What is the importance of ABA accreditation?

Accreditation helps to standardize law schools and legal practice across the country. It brings recognition to schools that meet ABA standards, but also regulates law school graduates’ future employment prospects. Graduates of ABA approved law schools can sit for the bar exam in any state, but graduates of non ABA approved law schools are not eligible to sit for the bar in most states. Some states do allow graduates of non ABA approved schools to sit for the bar, but have additional requirements that make it difficult for these students to do so.
ABA accreditation is important largely because of its role in determining eligibility for the bar exam. Passing the bar is a requirement for every student who wishes to practice law.
You can view the list of accredited law schools in alphabetical order here.
Thinking about applying to a non ABA approved law school? Go to our post here.

What is the ABA accreditation process?

ABA accreditation is, at minimum, a three-year-long process. Schools first apply for provisional approval from the ABA, and remain under provisional status for at least three years before being fully approved. In a school’s third year after receiving full approval, the ABA conducts a comprehensive on-campus evaluation. If you want to learn about details on the process, you can check out the ABA’s website here.
A school that receives accreditation isn’t permanently in the clear, either. To maintain approval from the ABA, a school needs to demonstrate that it meets standards on a consistent, ongoing basis. In order to ensure that accredited schools are compliant, the ABA conducts regular site visits every seven years for fully approved law schools, and every year for provisionally approved schools. Schools must also publish annual reports that detail their compliance with ABA regulations and policies. These reports provide data on curriculum, faculty, resources, student profiles, bar passage rates, and student placement rates.

Why isn’t every school accredited?

The ABA only accredits schools that clearly demonstrate they meet outlined standards. The ABA guarantees that schools with its approval provide a certain quality of education, but doesn’t make any claims about the quality of unaccredited schools. Many times, schools without accreditation are not as rigorous as their accredited counterparts – making it even more difficult for students graduating from unaccredited schools to pass the bar.
Schools must also be in operation for at least one year before applying for provisional ABA accreditation, so newly-opened schools will not be accredited.

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