This post is for those of you who are considering attending a non ABA approved law school.
An overview of ABA accreditation
The American Bar Association (ABA) is an accreditation organization that has given approval to over 200 law schools in the United States. ABA-approved law schools offer a legal education that meets certain ABA standards set forth by the Council and Accreditation Committee of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar (that’s a long name for a committee, if you ask us!).
In the United States, any graduate of an ABA-approved law school can take the bar exam in their respective jurisdiction.
Graduates of non ABA approved law schools can still take the bar exam, but only in a limited number of states. You can learn more about bar exam prerequisites here.
What are the disadvantages?
Attending a non ABA approved school will greatly limit career opportunities in law. Law schools without accreditation typically have lower bar passage rates, so there are no guarantees that attending a non ABA approved law school will lead to a legal career.
Graduates from non ABA approved law schools will also need to work in a state with more flexible policies about bar admission and law school accreditation. And while graduates from these schools can find job offers in the schools’ own local markets, it is often much more difficult to find employment elsewhere.
In addition, we can’t forget that the legal profession is often dominated by reputation. (For more information about the importance of reputation, check out our post on law school rankings. A key part of reputation is ABA accreditation. Graduates from non ABA approved law schools typically find that they need to prove they’re able and prepared to practice law.
That means that if you’re not sure what you want to do with your future law degree, or if you don’t know where you want to practice, a non ABA approved law school will not be a smart move for you.
Why attend a non ABA approved school?
Non ABA approved law schools generally have lower standards for admission than approved law schools. Thus, if you have serious concern that your LSAT and GPA are too low for admission at an ABA-accredited school, you can still become a lawyer by attending a non-approved school.
Non ABA approved schools might also be advantageous for students whose primary concern is cost. These schools’ tuition costs are lower than their accredited counterparts. (Note that the majority of ABA-approved schools do offer scholarships to help offset tuition.)
Non ABA approved schools also allow students to work full-time in their first year of law school, which ABA-approved schools do not allow. This can be a major advantage for students with financial challenges.
Lastly, success can come from any path, given the right motivation and commitment. While attending a non ABA approved school does come with a set of hurdles, by no means would it prevent you from becoming a successful lawyer down the road. Graduates of non-ABA-approved schools have gone on to open their own law firms and become highly reputable members of the legal community.
If you’re certain you want to practice law in a market with more flexible bar admission standards, and if your academic record and financial situation present serious concern, it may be worth looking into applying to non ABA approved law schools.