Paul L. Caron

Sunday, December 1, 2019

California's Disappearing ABA Law Schools

Karen Sloan (, CA's Disappearing ABA Law Schools:

California Law SchoolsCalifornia is losing not one but two (La Verne and Thomas Jefferson) ABA-accredited law schools. (Well, three (Whittier) if you take a more expansive view of the issue.) ...

The number of law schools in the Golden State was pretty evenly split between ABA-accredited and California-accredited for a long time. (I’m not going to delve into the state’s unaccredited law schools, which is a whole different can of worms.) But with these upcoming changes, the number of law schools approved by the ABA will drop to 18 while the number of state-accredited schools will climb to 23. ...

I think this move away from ABA law schools in California is the result of a number of factors. The most obvious is that there aren’t as many people going to law schools these days and the model isn’t a money generator the way it was 10 years ago. ...

So the big question, to me, is whether other ABA law schools that are further down the California food chain will follow suit and ditch their ABA status. Are Thomas Jefferson and La Verne the ice breakers that will make it more palatable for other campuses to go that route?

My thoughts: That answer to that question, I hope, is no. The fact is that ABA-accredited law schools—due to the nature of having to meet higher standards—on the whole deliver better results for their students. Nothing stuck out more to me during the course of reporting these stories than this statistic: Just 26% of first-time bar takers from California-accredited schools passed the state’s licensing exam in July of 2019. Among graduates of ABA-accredited law schools, that figure was 71%. That’s a huge difference, and frankly that discrepancy that would frighten me if I were considering attending a California-accredited law school.

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There will be some thoughtful writing on this subject - but this doesn't appear to be it. (I don't use Lexis so I haven't read it in full.) The conclusion drawn on the basis of bar pass rates ignores the most obvious of all differences: LSAT scores at entry. It is the equivalent of an author sagely noticing that many fewer people die after treatment by dermatologists than oncologists - and concluding, obviously, that dermatologists must be MUCH better doctors.

Posted by: Diane Klein | Dec 1, 2019 11:00:53 PM

Does that discrepancy still exist if you control for entering LSAT scores?

Posted by: Linda Seebach | Dec 2, 2019 4:24:45 AM

For July 2018, TJ's pass rate was 25%, La Vern's 34%, and Whittier's 26%. Indeed, if you omit those three schools from the table of California's ABA accredited schools on the July 2018 bar exam, the pass rate improves by 1%. If I were looking at schools today, the fact that those three are ABA accredited would not be enough for me to get over the low pass rate.

Posted by: the Other cliff | Dec 2, 2019 5:21:46 AM

Let's make sure we're not confusing cause and effect. Are state accredited law school students disproportionately those could not obtain admission to ABA schools, and therefore less capable of passing the bar exam no matter where they went?

Posted by: James K O'Sullivan | Dec 2, 2019 12:40:57 PM

The other cliff has the cause and effect backwards, I think. The schools are turning away from ABA accreditation because they know they can not meet the revised standard requiring 75% of graduates to pass a bar exam within two years of graduation. The law schools are resigning before they get kicked out, in effect.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Dec 2, 2019 10:50:36 PM