Law School Accreditation

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Law School Accreditation in California

American Bar Association (ABA) Approved Law Schools

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Law School Accreditation in California

by Gregory Thomas

An accreditation dispute rages over stricter bar passage rates.

George A. Shohet, an attorney in Venice, still believes where a student goes to law school has no bearing on his or her ability to pass the bar.

“People want a standardized approach to verify whether people who go to law school actually pass the bar; I get that,” says Shohet, who is representing Southern California Institute of Law (SCIL) in its dispute with the state over accreditation. “But graduating from law school doesn’t necessarily translate to great test-taking abilities.”
As state and national bar examiners move to make schools more account- able, SCIL continues to challenge a new California requirement: Starting in 2016, schools could lose their state accreditation if 40 percent of their graduates haven’t passed the bar exam over the previous five-year period (S. Calif. Inst. of Law v. Biggers, No. 13-193 (C.D. Cal. appeal filed July 12, 2013).)

SCIL’s bar-passage rate is “persistently” near the bottom among accredited California law schools, according to the State Bar examiners’ motion to dismiss. In 2012, when 43 of its graduates took the bar, not one passed. From 2007 to 2012, SCIL graduates have taken the bar 347 times and passed only 23, a rate of 6.6 percent.

Meanwhile, the American Bar Association’s Standards Review Committee is considering proposing an even tougher standard: For national accreditation, 80 percent of a school’s graduates would have to pass a state bar exam within two years. “The general consensus is that the current bar-passage standard [75 percent over five years] is meaningless,” says Jeffrey E. Lewis, chairman of the committee.

Shohet says linking accreditation with bar passage is unfair to many deserving students. “We don’t want charlatans running around, but SCIL isn’t being accused of scamming anybody,” Shohet says. “If SCIL adopted a teach-to-the-test methodology, I’m sure it would have a sterling passage rate.” But that also would “diminish the school’s ability to teach critical thinking, a skill associated with being a competent lawyer.”

Pepperdine University associate law professor Robert Anderson – whose research has shown that California’s bar exam is one of the two toughest in the U.S. – agrees legal education is hard to measure. “It’s a black box whether the education students receive is increasing their probability of passing the bar,” Anderson says. But he says there’s “no doubt” California’s 40 percent standard remains low.

SCIL – relatively affordable at about $33,000 for a JD – serves a more disadvantaged demographic than other accredited law schools, says Shohet. So the new rule is tantamount to telling SCIL students, “No, you don’t get to pass go. You don’t get to try to do this,” he says. And if SCIL loses its accreditation, its students will face yet another hurdle – passing the “baby bar,” the competency test required of first-year students at California’s unaccredited law schools.

California’s Law Office Study Program (LOSP)

California’s Law Office Study Program (LOSP) is grounded in State Bar rule 4.29 ( The requirements are uncomplicated, and the State Bar admissions office mainly serves as a registrar. The bar doesn’t supervise apprentices–that’s the task of their sponsors, who must be either a judge or an attorney and must have at least five years of good standing with the bar. The State Bar doesn’t even evaluate the curriculum that the sponsor and the student design. Sponsors may not claim MCLE credit for their mentoring.

1 thought on “Law School Accreditation

  1. International Post author

    Law Graduate

    As unpopular as it may be, “teaching to the test” due to the CALS 40% and ABA 80% rule may actually lead to indoctrination v. deliberation by the law student. SCIL only has approximately 350 graduates since it began 25 years ago. The SCIL sources state that between Feb. 2009- Feb. 2013 the overall bar pass rate was 32.8%. Please consider US Supreme Court case “Sander v. State Bar of California” and the socio-economic bar passage rate discrepancies disclosed post disposition. The 40% rule currently affecting recent CALS graduates is possibly not only arbitrary and capricious but in effect, to make the mark, creates a content based free speech issue. Our 9th district may soon decide.


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