I have mixed emotions about unaccredited law schools. One the one hand, they may serve a purpose for the right person. On the other, that purpose is probably something other than putting a J.D. on one's resume in furtherance of applying for jobs as an attorney.
Hi Duncan (I used to post as Roald, but got bored and changed my nom de plume). As usual, I think your analysis is spot on. Unaccredited schools can be the best choice for the right student. Much of the criticism of unaccredited schools is unfair and comes from younger ABA students who don't understand the benefits that may accrue to an older student who just wants to further their career, and couldn't care less about biglaw. Like I said, I've met attorneys (and even a judge) who graduated from unaccredited schools.
That said, in order for someone to determine whether or not an uaccredited program is right for them they've got to understand the potential limitations of such a degree. And it's here that I see some blissful ignorance (or denial) on the part of some unaccredited students.
I go back and forth on this issue of unaccredited law schools. Clearly they serve a purpose, but it's equally clear that some issues with FYLSE and bar pass rates exist. Are the low FYLSE pass rates due to a lack of academic rigor? Or is there a lack of meaningful feedback to the students? Or is the problem with admissions (letting in unqualified students)? Maybe it's a combination of these and other factors.
As I said, much of the criticism of unaccredited schools is unfair and is based on snobbery. Nonetheless, if unaccredited/online programs want to be taken seriously they've got to meet the rest of the legal profession half way. It's not enough to just say "Everyone else needs to change their attitude." They are going to have to significantly boost their FYLSE/bar exam pass rates. Until then, I don't think much will change.
You mentioned that your CBE degree is only a notch above an unaccredited degree, but I'd disagree. CBE schools are accredited, just not by the ABA. In California the bench and bar are well stocked with CBE grads, and many CBE law schools have good local reputations. I've worked at offices where CBE grads worked alongside UCLA grads, but where an unaccredited grad would probably not even get an interview, period. That may be unfair and short sighted, but it's true nonetheless.
The fact is, the CBE schools have already proven that non-ABA degrees can be accepted by the legal profession if they adhere to predictable, accepted standards.
LOL. I thought
you sounded like Roald as I read your post. Hilarious.
I was being slightly facetious when I said a CBE degree is only a notch above an unaccredited school, but I'm a realist about it, too. It has its limitations. A number of my colleagues who are CBE-educated attorneys have also admitted to me that not having an ABA degree has definitely held them back in their careers. But from where I sit, there's nowhere to go but up.
You're correct that unaccredited schools need to figure out what they're doing wrong insofar as improving the number of their graduates who ever
pass the bar. I can't see wasting my time and money - especially the latter - on a legal education if I didn't plan to pass the bar exam. There was an article that came out a few months ago about a proposal to require CBE schools to reach a minimum average pass rate of 50% over a five-year period or lose their state accreditation. I think that's a sound idea, personally. The education is just too expensive to get all the way through the program and then find yourself unable to get over the last hurdle.
I've noticed that my professors are starting to talk more and more about the bar and what it takes to pass it. My con law prof in particular likes to spend five or ten minutes at the beginning of each class to put things into perspective for us. He's a great guy, but a very sobering individual. About two weeks ago, he said to us, "You're all working adults, some with families, some with mortgages. It can be tough to take eight weeks off from work to immerse yourself in the law and do nothing but prepare for the bar. But you need to be thinking about how you're going to do that now, while you still have a year and a half to go. Consider your competition: all those students who graduate from ABA schools. Do you think they're going to be working 40 hours a week during those eight weeks leading up to the bar exam?" You could have heard a pin drop. He didn't even need to shake his head. So it's an ominous road ahead when you're a night student with a career. I can't even imagine what it must be like facing the bar while attending an unaccredited school.
That said, I still have 19-20 months before I sit the bar. I'm already in bar review classes, which will run twice a year until I take the bar. I'll be spending the next 20 months working on my approaches and my issue-spotting skills. And I've informed my boss that I'll need to take a leave of absence to prepare for the bar when the time comes. So I hope I've got a fighting chance. I'm sure trying to do what it takes. But this is a steep hill to climb.