Law school deans in the US divided over accreditation of online programs

While some view it as a means to improve access and affordability, others, including deans from renowned institutions express concerns about education quality and the lack of data on online law graduates’ bar pass rates and job prospects.

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A recent American Bar Association (ABA) proposal to accredit fully online law schools has sparked a nationwide debate among law school deans. In November, the ABA’s council initiated a process to gather public comments on proposed standard changes allowing online law schools without physical campuses to seek accreditation.

While some argue that the move could enhance access to legal education and reduce costs, others, including deans from prestigious institutions such as Villanova University and UC Berkeley, are raising concerns about the quality of education and the lack of data regarding the bar pass rates and employment outcomes of online law school graduates.

The proposal’s fate remains uncertain, with the ABA council set to meet in May and further rounds of feedback anticipated before a decision is reached.

Why does it matter?

Currently, only law schools with physical campuses can obtain accreditation for fully online JD (Juris Doctor) programs and only graduates from accredited institutions can sit for the bar exam. However, there is a shift in some states, exemplified by the Indiana Supreme Court’s recent decision to allow graduates of schools not accredited by the ABA to request a waiver to take the bar exam, following California’s early move. The move aims to address the shortage of attorneys in Indiana, though the quality of the online education program remains questionable.