Why Should We Care About the ABA Seal of Approval?

2013_2014_aba_standards_approval_law_schoolsIn light of the recent troubles faced by non-accredited universities in the country, I came to wonder what this accreditation, or lack thereof, might mean for law schools. Specifically, I wondered what the pros and cons of enrolling at an ABA-accredited law school were. When applying to law schools, I received emails from non-ABA approved schools that offered to fund my education, but never having heard of them was enough to deter me from applying. But was I wrong to ignore these schools’ appealing offers?
The American Bar Association, a Chicago-based professional organization that has accredited law schools since 1952, approves of 203 institutions in the United States. Law schools that are ABA-approved provide a legal education that meets a minimum set of standards promulgated by the ABA to the Bar. Although all states allow graduates with a J.D. from an ABA-approved law schools to sit for the bar examination, some states, such as California, allow students who attended non-ABA schools to take the bar.
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Google Map of ABA-Approved

It is easy to understand, then, why many law students are encouraged to enroll at ABA-accredited law schools because they can maximize their professional flexibility and benefit from greater geographic mobility. Furthermore, many firms only hire graduates from ABA–accredited schools, and an ABA–approved education often guarantees a higher starting salary.

Going to a non-ABA accredited law program seems to greatly reduce the options law students will have in their legal career. However, for students who know they want to work in a state that has a more open policy with respect to law school accreditation and bar admission, enrolling in a non-ABA school may be the better way to go. Indeed, non-ABA accredited law schools tend to be cheaper and may have a good local name recognition and a strong alumni network. However, law schools that seek to obtain ABA accreditation tend to admit students with less than stellar scores in order to raise the money necessary to comply with ABA accreditation recommendations. The sad part is that many of these students struggle to pass the bar and still amass debt.

approved_largeAs we know, our generation may struggle to secure legal jobs. Many of us will in fact have to go wherever the jobs are. With that in mind, enrolling at an ABA-approved law school, such as the University of Oregon School of Law, seems to be a reasonable choice: we are paying for an education that will offer us a great deal of professional and geographic flexibility, which will undoubtedly serve us well in this current economy.

 

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