ABA-certified law schools are the gold standard in legal education in the US, but they are not the only standard. While the American Bar Association is the only national accreditation body for law schools, there are several that are state-certified. Certification from a state-bar association does not mean lower-quality education. But going to a state-bar-certified law school instead of an ABA-certified law schools can cause complications, which we’ll talk about later. We’ll also give you a list of ABA-certified law schools in the US, the differences between ABA-certification and state-certification and which you should choose for your legal education.
This is an annotated list of all the ABA-certified law schools in the US. In total, there are over 200 different ABA-certified law schools, and around 30 non-ABA-certified law schools in the US.
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An ABA-certified law school is a law school in the US that has received accreditation from the American Bar Association, which, in turn, is recognized by the US Department of Education, as the only accrediting body for law schools in the US. The American Bar Association is the only national certifying body for legal education in the US, but there are a few non-ABA-certified law schools that operate with ABA approval, which we’ll discuss later.
ABA-certified law schools are accredited to offer the first law degree, the Juris Doctor, or JD. But the American Bar Association has no role in approving programs for other . According to Standard 313 of the ABA Standards for Approval of Law Schools, an ABA-certified law school can only offer other law degrees (Master of Laws – LL.M; Doctor of Jurisprudence – J.S.D, for example) as long as these degree programs do not interfere with the school’s ability to provide a “a rigorous program of legal education” for the JD program.
For the American Board Association, the JD is most important. If a school is able to provide a JD program that meets ABA standards and receives full ABA-approval, it is free to offer any other type of legal education program, both at the graduate and doctorate-level. However, the ABA does have a role in accrediting other types of legal education formats, including distance courses and . It has approved online or hybrid JD programs at close to 20 ABA-certified law schools.
Going to an ABA-certified law schools is important to you for a lot of reasons. The first and most obvious reason is that an ABA-certified law school provides the best possible legal education, which has been reviewed and approved by the American Board Association. The second reason is that going to and graduating from an ABA-certified law school’s JD program means that you can take the bar exam in any of the 50 states in the US.
In the US, if you want to be a practicing lawyer, you must take your state bar association’s qualifying exam to get a license. But each state bar association does not have the time or resources to accredit every single law school in the US, which is where ABA-certification steps in. As long as you graduate with a JD degree from an ABA-certified law school that signals to every state bar association that you are qualified to take the exam.
The ABA does provide standards for law schools to use in their , but law schools have a lot of latitude for how to adhere or apply these standards. This autonomy is what makes it extremely hard to get into the in the US, such as , and , and why there are such things as the who, while having law school requirements, do not apply such stringent standards.
The ABA also established the most basic law school admissions requirements for , such as having a bachelor’s degree or three-fourths of a bachelor’s degree to be admitted. The ABA also made exceptions to this rule. If you have the “experience, ability … or other qualifications” that “clearly demonstrate an aptitude for the study of law” you may also be admitted under special circumstances. The ABA is also the body that has made the LSAT part of law school admissions.
However, the ABA also has exceptions to having to take the LSAT to get into law school, although it does not determine or make any determination about the ideal . The ABA allows law schools to admit students without the LSAT who have proven themselves competent enough to complete a JD program on the strength of their undergraduate academic achievement or though impressive .
For example, if you can maintain a 3.5 GPA throughout six undergraduate semesters (or two academic years), you may be able to be admitted without the taking the LSAT. You can also gain admission to law school without taking the LSAT if you are part of an undergraduate, prelaw program at the same institution, or if you scored in the 85th percentile for either the to get into university.
ABA-certified law schools must also adhere to the curriculum standards set forth by the American Bar Association. These standards include many of the core courses that you must take regardless of which law school you go to, so long as it is an ABA-certified law school. The core courses that all law students in the US must complete include:
- One course on the professional conduct and the responsibilities of a practicing lawyer
- One year of learning legal writing through various “writing experience”
- One six-credit course of experiential education, which refers to legal clinics, internships or fieldwork
Believe it or not, another core component of all JD program established by the ABA is that your law school must provide you various opportunities to support your future career, including:
- Developing your professional identity as a lawyer
- Providing public service opportunities, such as working pro-bono or in another public service capacity
- Encouraging participation in legal clinics or fieldwork, such as , but for law students, or
These curriculum requirements are another reason why going to an ABA-certified law school is better for you than a non-ABA-certified law school. You will get a well-rounded legal education balanced between in-person, class instruction and real-world, hands-on experience. Believe or not, ABA-certified law schools are also required to educate you on “bias, cross-cultural competency, and racism” both at the beginning of law school and the end.
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- Abraham Lincoln University School of Law
- Birmingham School of Law
- CAL Northern School of Law
- California Desert Trial Academy College of Law
- California School of Law
- Colleges of Law—Santa Barbara
- Colleges of Law—Ventura
- Concord Law School at Purdue University Global
- Empire College School of Law
- Glendale University College of Law
- Humphreys University Drivon School of Law
- Irvine College of Law
- John F. Kennedy School of Law at Northcentral University
- University of La Verne College of Law and Public Service
- Lincoln Law School of Sacramento
- Lincoln Law School of San Jose
- Massachusetts School of Law at Andover
- Miles Law School
- Monterey College of Law
- Nashville School of Law
- Northwestern California University School of Law
- Oak Brook College of Law
- Pacific Coast University School of Law
- Pacific West College of Law
- Saint Francis School of Law
- San Francisco Law School at Alliant International University
- San Joaquin College of Law
- Southern California Institute of Law
- Taft Law School
- Thomas Jefferson School of Law
- Trinity Law School, Trinity International University
- The University of West Los Angeles School of Law—West Los Angeles
- Western Sierra Law School
Non-ABA-certified law schools are law schools in the US that are not approved by the American Bar Association. Depending on the school, they may either have state certification, as is usually the case in California, or be accredited by a different organization (for example, the Distance Education Accrediting Commission or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation) or not have any type of accreditation based on the school’s philosophy toward legal education.
California is the state that has the most non-ABA-certified law schools, which is because the State Bar of California is one of the many states that allow you to take the bar exam if you are a graduate from a non-ABA-certified school. Despite the oft-repeated chorus that going to a non-ABA-certified law school will make it difficult for you to take a state bar exam and get a law license, there are several states in the US that will allow you to take the state bar exam under certain conditions. If you’re a graduate from a non-ABA-certified law school, and want to sit for the state bar exam, you can do so if you meet at least one or more of the following conditions:
- You have been admitted to another state’s bar
- You have practiced law in-state or out-of-state for number of years
- You have studied law in-state or out-of-state
- You have completed a specified number of credit hours at an ABA-certified law school
In all, there are 31 states where you can apply to take the state bar exam, if you graduated from a non-ABA certified school. But these states each have distinct application requirements, such as those above, or have them in different combinations. For example, you can sit for the North Carolina State Bar exam if:
You went to an out-of-state non-ABA-certified law school
You have been admitted to another state’s bar
Another example is Alabama, where you must have graduated from either an in-state or out-of-state non-ABA certified law school, but rather than having been admitted to another state’s bar, must have practiced law for a certain number of years.
Taking all this into consideration, going to a non-ABA certified law school is not the death knell for your legal career that many make it out to be. However, while you may be able to sit for many different state bar exams with your law degree from a non-ABA-certified law school, whether you pass or not is another question, which we’ll cover in the following sections.
1. Quality of Education
An ABA-certified law school is almost a guarantee that you will be receiving a high-quality education. The ABA requires all ABA-certified law schools to live up to the high standards that it imposes, which have been chosen based on the input of various stake-holders, from law school deans to the Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar to ensure that all students are able to represent the legal profession and those who seek legal representation. Being a lawyer is a public profession, after all, so, with its standards, the ABA is also looking out for those who rely and depend on lawyers to seek justice, although that is not to say that if you go to a non-ABA-certified law school that you will not be able to do the same.
2. Better Preparation for the Bar Exam
One significant advantage of going to an ABA-certified law school with stringent curriculum requirements is that you might be better prepared than graduates from non-ABA-certified law schools to pass the bar exam. Many non-ABA-certified law school graduates often fare worse than their fellow ABA-certified law school graduates when it comes to passing the bar exam. However, there are exceptions to this that are worth examining.
Despite the belief that ABA-certified law school graduates have higher pass rates than non-ABA certified graduates, the statistics reveal a more complicated picture. Let’s use Alabama as an example. There are five law schools in Alabama – three ABA-certified; two non-ABA-certified.
While it is true that non-ABA-certified students fared worse on their second-attempt (90% of test-takers from one non-ABA school failed) than ABA-students, first-time test takers from Birmingham Law School (non-ABA school) did as well on their first attempt (45% passed) as graduates of the Faulkner University Thomas Goode Jones School of Law, an ABA-certified law school.
Alabama is one example, but California is another example, as it is also home to the most non-ABA-certified law schools. In California, 49% of ABA-students passed the bar exam on their first-attempt. But 33% of non-ABA students (from in-state, non-ABA-schools) were able to pass the bar on their first-attempt. What this goes to show is that in some cases, going to an ABA-certified law school does make it easier for you to pass the bar, but not always. It also shows that non-ABA-students are also able to pass the bar, often, at the same rate as ABA-students, but not always.
3. More, Better Extracurricular and Academic Opportunities
Going to an ABA-certified law school means that you have more access to the kinds of academic and extracurricular resources a prestigious law school is able to get, with its deep-pocketed donors, and high tuition fees, which is one of the . These academic and extracurricular resources can be anything from attracting highly-regarded, expert faculty and visiting scholars to being able to fund and sponsor your participation in international exchange programs or clerkships. While non-ABA-certified law schools can still provide you with an adequate legal education, they are not often able to provide you with the kinds of opportunities that better-funded, more well-regarded ABA-certified law schools can.
1. The Cost
Conventional wisdom makes it seem like ABA-certified law schools are more expensive and charge higher tuition than non-ABA-certified law schools, which are believed to be less expensive, and conventional wisdom is right. Using California as an example this time, the tuition and total cost-of-attendance for a California, non-ABA-accredited law school – San Joaquin College of Law – is around $50,000 for your first year. Tuition at an ABA-accredited law school in California – UCLA School of Law – is around $56,455 for California residents, and $68,700 for out-of-state students. But you must add another $31,352 to cover living expenses, which brings the grand total for one year at UCLA Law to $87,807. But in these cases, you also have to understand that the higher tuition and cost-of-attendance figures for ABA-certified law schools means you’ll also have access to better educational and non-academic resources and facilities than at non-ABA schools.
1. Easier Admission Requirements
It’s easy to tell from for ABA-certified law schools that they are not easy to get into. Not only do you have to worry about the cost, and affordability, you also have to worry about securing important application materials, such as , as well as having to take the LSAT, which requires creating an and spending months reading over and to be able to get a high-enough score to get into your preferred program.
But remember how we talked about how ABA-certified law schools set their law school admissions requirements based on standards set by the ABA, such as the LSAT? Non-ABA-certified law schools have no such obligations. This means you do not have to take the LSAT. Nor do you have to write numerous or even interview. For example, the Abraham Lincoln University School of Law only requires you submit your official transcripts, complete an online assessment test, have a bachelor’s degree, and submit a for admittance to its online JD program.
2. More Accepting for Mature or Non-Traditional Students
The easier law school admissions requirements of non-ABA schools means that you don’t have to spend so much time perfecting your application. But beyond the admissions process, non-ABA-schools are often distance, online or hybrid programs that you can take either full-time or part-time, which is better-suited for people who work full-time, have children, or other family responsibilities. These kinds of formats also make it easier for you to work while you study, so you can keep earning as you progress through the program. No doubt, there are many ABA-certified law schools that also offer online programs, or let you study part-time, but the costs associated with them are higher than for non-ABA certified law schools.
3. Better Eligibility for Taking the Bar
We already mentioned that there are 31 states that accept non-ABA graduates, so that means there are more states than accept non-ABA-graduates than graduates from ABA-certified law schools. There are only 23 states that only accept ABA-graduates without exception, so, as a non-ABA graduate, you have more opportunities to get a law license in more states than an ABA-graduate. But you also have to be wary of the fact that getting a state bar exam in one state, does not always mean you can practice in every state, so you have to check what the privileges of passing the bar in one state brings, as there can be restrictions. If you graduate from a non-ABA-certified law school in California, you can only sit for the California State Bar, and if you’re admitted, you can only practice in California.
1. Poorer Graduate Outcomes (Relative)
We’ve tried to fight against the dominant narrative that going to a non-ABA-certified law school is worse than going to an ABA-certified law school, but even we cannot deny that many non-ABA students have a harder time passing the state bar exam, whether in their own state or another. In Colorado, all 13 non-ABA students who took the state bar failed, although it is not clear how many were non-ABA students and how many were international students, as they were grouped together. In contrast, ABA-students who took the Colorado State Bar fared much better (46% of University of Colorado students passed; 54% of University of Denver students passed) even though, they had difficulty taking the bar the second time (out of the 18 students who retook the bar exam, half passed, and half failed). However, the picture is not always grim. At the San Joaquin School of Law, over 80% of its graduates were able to pass the California State Bar for over a decade, so there is a lot more to state bar pass and fail rates than where you graduated from, although ABA-certified law school graduates do have some advantages.
2. Lack of Resources
We talked about how ABA-certified law schools - which are not always associated with , and include many as well as some of the - have the resources to give to their law students, which a majority of non-ABA-accredited law schools cannot provide to their students. This dearth of resources can have real consequences, as we can see from the fail rates for non-ABA students compared to ABA-students. But non-ABA-certified law schools make up for it by simply existing, as they often make up for a deficit of legal education in a specific region, similar to how some medical schools were created to serve a particular area. Using San Joaquin as an example, the school was started by a group of lawyers, judges and other legal professionals in the San Joaquin Valley in California as a way to give local residents the opportunity to get a legal education. After a rocky start, the school found its footing. It now regularly wins or places high in national law moot competitions, with 37% of all women and Hispanic lawyers in San Joaquin being graduates of the school.
If you’re thinking “”, then your first impulse will probably be to apply to an ABA-certified law school, and there’s nothing wrong with that. ABA-certified law schools are the norm, but we hope that after you’ve read this article you also understand that there are other options, especially if you live in California, but not only. Of course, there are many more ABA-certified law schools than there are non-ABA schools, so there is more choice among ABA-certified law schools.
A lot of ABA-certified law schools are also trying to be more inclusive and accessible, either in their standardized testing requirements, offering distance, online, hybrid and part-time programs, or offering different types of financial aid, so they are trying to appeal to non-traditional and mature students. But if you do not want to spend an enormous amount of money, or simply do not have the resources to pursue a JD program at an ABA-certified law school, a non-ABA school can be useful.
The application requirements are easier; the tuition is lower; and you can have a more flexible schedule and format for learning. However, the quality of education is difficult to discern. Since non-ABA-certified law schools do not have to maintain high academic standards to receive accreditation, each school sets its own curriculum, curriculum requirements and core courses. This patchwork of standards also means that while one non-ABA school may have a quality program, it does not translate to all of them, as ABA-certification does for ABA-schools.
1. What are ABA-certified law schools?
ABA-certified law schools are law schools in the US that have met the educational standard requirements set by the American Bar Association.
2. What are non-ABA certified law schools?
Non-ABA certified law schools are law schools in the US that have not applied, or have had their ABA-certification pulled, or let their ABA-certification pass but continue to operate as law-degree granting institutions that offer JD degrees to qualified students.
3. What are the advantages of going to an ABA-certified law schools?
The advantages ABA-certified law schools offer includes having rigorous legal education programs, providing students with many academic and extracurricular opportunities, and preparing them for state bar exams.
4. What are some disadvantages of going to an ABA-certified law schools?
The disadvantages of going to an ABA-certified law schools include the exorbitant costs, the more difficult admission requirements, and not having as many opportunities to sit for the bar exam.
5. What are the advantages of going to a non-ABA-certified law school?
The advantages of going to a non-ABA-certified law school include lower tuition and cost-of-attendance, easier admissions requirements (no LSAT) and having various delivery formats for your classes (online, hybrid, distance).
6. What are some of the disadvantages of going to a non-ABA-certified law school?
Some of the disadvantages of going to a non-ABA-certified law school include the possibly sub-standard quality of the JD program, a lack of academic and non-academic resources or facilities (legal clinics, public service opportunities, expert faculty) and worse preparation for taking state bar exams.
7. Are ABA-certified law schools better than non-ABA-certified law school?
In many ways, yes, ABA-certified law schools are better than non-ABA-certified law schools, but the latter fill a need that ABA-certified law schools do not or cannot; specifically, the need law schools that provide legal education to disadvantaged and underrepresented groups. ABA-certified programs have made inroads to help minorities and other underrepresented groups access law school, but non-ABA-certified programs remain easier to access.
8. Should I go to an ABA-certified law school?
If you have the means, and resources to go an ABA-certified law school, yes, you should go to an ABA-certified law school. Non-ABA certified law schools are for people from a very specific background, namely being mature, or non-traditional students, who do not have easy access to most ABA-certified law schools.