Students in accelerated law programs, unlike traditional students, have only one summer for internships and clerkships.
The American Bar Association, a Chicago-based professional organization that has accredited law schools since 1952, approves of 202 institutions in the United States—three of them provisionally. Although all states allow graduates with a J.D. from an ABA-approved law school to sit for the bar examination—and in some states, it's a prerequisite to applying for the test—some states allow students who attended non-ABA schools to take the bar, according to the ABA website.
It's easy to understand, then, why many lawyers encourage students to maximize their professional flexibility by attending schools that are approved by the ABA. "Going to a non-ABA accredited law program greatly reduces the options law students will have in their legal career, " says Josh King, the general counsel and vice president of business development at Avvo, an online legal forum and directory.
For students who know they want to work in a state that has a more open policy with respect to law school accreditation and bar admission, it's fine to go to a non-ABA school, adds King, who holds a J.D. from the University of California's Hastings College of the Law.
"But for anyone who isn't particularly sure what they want to do with their legal training—or where they want to practice—going to such a school is a very poor decision, " he says. "A far better choice under such circumstances is to work harder at getting into an accredited program, or pursue a different career."
Other lawyers, such as Monrae English, a partner at Wild, Carter & Tipton in Fresno, Calif., acknowledge that under certain circumstances, students may benefit from studying at a non-ABA school. Many of English's associates went to the San Joaquin College of Law, a local school that she says has been "trying for decades" to gain ABA accreditation.
A school like San Joaquin can be convenient for students who are married or have children and are already established in the Fresno area; it is also less expensive than an ABA school and has good local name recognition and a strong local alumni support system, English says.
Despite San Joaquin's local reputation, English chose to attend the McGeorge School of Law at the University of the Pacific in Sacramento, rather than a non-ABA-accredited school. She did so even though California allows graduates with J.D.'s from non ABA-schools to sit for the bar.
Law schools without ABA approval tend to have "dismal and skewed bar passage rates, " she says, and they limit graduates' options. Recent graduates aren't likely to receive a first offer outside of the area where the school is based, she says. "In California, there is definitely a hierarchy in terms of schools, and a non-ABA school is the bottom of the barrel."