After you spend all your blood, sweat, tears (and money) pursuing a law degree, what happens if the law school you attended loses its accreditation status with the American Bar Association?
The American Bar Association is responsible for setting legal education standards and minimum bar examination pass rates for accredited law schools. Currently, there are 199 ABA-approved law schools in the U.S.
How Are Law Schools Accredited?
A law school receives accreditation from the state in which they operate according to its laws. However, the state also recognizes any school that is an ABA-accredited law school. The ABA provides a national accreditation status for the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and other U.S. territories.
Note: There is no University of American Samoa Law School. That is a fictional law school from the Breaking Bad series.
Among other issues, the ABA standards cover bar exam passing rates. ABA accreditation standard 316 requires 75% of the schools’ law students to pass the bar exam within two years of graduation. This is a recent requirement established in 2019.
Why Did the ABA Revise Standard 316?
This rule was in response to law schools lowering admission standards for their degree programs, for example, admitting students with low LSAT scores. When they lowered the standards, their rankings and bar pass rates suffered.
What if My Law School Has Low Bar Exam Passing Rates?
The ABA recently published findings from the 2019 bar exams and found three schools that did not meet the minimum standard.
The law schools can respond in writing to the ABA Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions with improved statistics. The school has two years to go before the appeals panel to maintain eligibility for law school accreditation.
For example, the Ave Maria School of Law cites their class of 2020 has a bar passing rate of 90% and that the 2019 result is inconsistent with their 2018 results of 84%.
Furthermore, law schools point out that bar passage rates in the past couple of years have been negatively affected by COVID-19. For example, only 65% of first-time applicants in California passed the July 2022 California bar exam. That puts many California J.D. programs at risk of losing accreditation status.
What if I Am Attending Law School That Loses Accreditation Status?
If the ABA finds your school noncompliant with the accreditation process, they revoke ABA approval, and one of three things can happen:
- The school presents a teach-out plan so current students can stay at the law school and graduate. The law school operates until the last class graduates and does not accept enrollment of new students.
- The law school continues as a non-accredited law school. The current students complete their degree at the law school or transfer to another ABA-accredited law school.
- The law school closes immediately. Current students transfer to another ABA-approved law school.
For example, San Diego’s Thomas Jefferson School of Law has limited accreditation status meaning it can graduate its current students until 2023. Then they are no longer an ABA-accredited school. However, they received approval from the California state bar to operate as a state-accredited school.
If your school loses accreditation status, reach out to the Department of Education to understand your options.
If My Law School Loses Accreditation Status, Are My Student Loans Discharged?
Unfortunately, no. You can only discharge your student loan if your school loses accreditation status within 120 days of attendance.
However, if your school closes while you’re enrolled or within 120 days of attendance, and you can’t transfer or finish your degree at that school, you may be eligible to discharge your student loans.
Can I Sue My School for Losing Accreditation Status?
Again, no. Generally, you cannot successfully sue a school for losing its accreditation. However, you can sue for fraud if the school misrepresented important information such as success rates for passing the bar.
Is My J.D. Legitimate If My Law School Loses Accreditation?
Yes. If you already received your J.D. agree from a school, it is valid despite your school losing ABA accreditation. While it is frustrating for law school graduates to attend a school that subsequently lost its ABA accreditation status, they can still practice law if they graduated and passed the bar.
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.