Correspondence Law School - United States - Accreditation and Acceptance of Credentials

Accreditation and Acceptance of Credentials

Observers have noted the attraction of distance learning law schools to students, such as flexible class schedules, lower tuition, and the lack of geographical limitations. Others, however, have noted that graduates of online law schools face some disadvantages, including (initial) ineligibility in some states to take the bar exam outside of California.

Correspondence and distance learning law schools are not accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA) or state bar examiners, even if they are registered with the California State Bar or licensed to confer academic degrees by relevant state education departments. Graduates of correspondence and distance learning law schools that are registered with the State Bar of California can sit for the California bar exam. The other states have varying rules for graduates of correspondence and distance learning law schools registered with the California State Bar: (a) a few states allow such graduates to immediately sit for the bar exams after graduation; (b) some states allow such graduates to sit for the bar exam immediately after passing the California Bar Exam; (c) several states allow graduates of correspondence and distance learning law schools to sit for the bar exams after passing the California Bar Exam and then gaining experience as an attorney: and (d) some states do not allow such graduates to ever sit for their bar exams.

Proponents of such exclusions argue that without ABA accreditation, there is no effective way to check that a law school meets minimum academic standards and that its graduates are prepared to become attorneys. The ABA stated in a 2003 policy document, "Neither private study, correspondence study or law office training, nor age or experience should be substituted for law-school education."

Concord Law School Dean Barry Currier maintains optimism regarding the acceptance of online law school degrees, saying that "once people see what we do over time, the degrees will be accepted." William Hunt, Dean of The California School of Law has noted that online schools have the ability to utilize the Socratic Method pedagogy as it is used at traditional law schools. Others have noted that the ABA's position on online and correspondence law schools is motivated more by a desire to exercise monopoly power and to protect traditional law schools' exclusivity. Law professor Michael Froomkin made a similar point, "The losers in the new era of legal education will be second- and third-tier institutions that lack name recognition and its concomitant prestige, and their faculties ... They will either have to become discount law schools, or go online themselves."

Graduates of California online schools have commenced legal actions in order to sit for the bar exam in their home states. Mel Thompson, a 2005 graduate of the West Coast School of Law, attempted to sue the ABA and the Connecticut Bar Examining Committee, alleging that Connecticut's refusal to let him sit for the bar exam violated due process, equal protection, and served as an "arbitrary" and unlawful restraint on trade. Thompson's grievance did not succeed and in 2007 his suit was dismissed. In 2007 Ross Mitchell, a 2004 graduate of Concord Law School, filed suit against the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners. Mitchell's suit was more successful than Thompson's; in 2008 the state’s Supreme Judicial Court granted Mitchell permission to take the Massachusetts bar exam. In 2009 Mitchell passed the bar and became the first online law school graduate sworn into the state bar of Massachusetts.

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