27 Student Law. 34 (1998-1999)
Almost Accredited Doesn't Make the Grade; Bahls, Jane Easter

handle is hein.journals/studlyr27 and id is 86 raw text is: Almost
Accredited
Doesn't
Make the
Grade
If you think your law
school experience is
stressful, imagine how
you'd feel if your law
school's accreditation
were at risk-possibly
rendering your hard-
earned law degree
worthless. Here's what
students at two law
schools did when they
found themselves in
just that situation
BY JANE EASTER BAHLS

Work hard in law school, take copi-
ous class notes, hash over cases with a
good study group, stay up really late
every night, do your utter best on exams,
and eventually you'll get your reward: a
law degree that entitles you to take the
bar exam and become a real lawyer.
That's the idea, anyway. But what if,
as you were nearing the end of your law
school ordeal, you learned that the de-
gree you'd sweated so long to earn would
be practically worthless? A legal educa-
tion may be valuable for its own sake,
but that's small comfort if you expected
to be able to sit for the bar and they won't
let you in.
That's what nearly happened last
year at the University of the District of
Columbia School of Law in Washington,
D.C., and at Chapman University School
of Law in Anaheim, California. The Uni-
versity of the District of Columbia
School of Law, which depends heavily
on federal subsidies allotted to the Dis-
trict of Columbia, nearly lost its provi-
sional accreditation by the American Bar
Association this January after the dis-
trict's money woes left the school on
shaky financial ground. Chapman Uni-
versity sought ABA approval of its new
law school in 1997 and was flatly reject-
ed. In both cases, some students pan-
icked as the administration regrouped
and made heroic efforts to meet the
ABA's accreditation standards.
The stories have happy endings,
though: Both law schools are now provi-
sionally accredited by the ABA, and their
1998 graduating classes are busy taking
the bar or embarking on their legal ca-
reers. But their roads to accreditation
varied dramatically.
For a law school, ABA accreditation
means everything. It's the ultimate seal of
approval, the guarantee to applicants
and employers alike that this school
maintains a high-quality faculty and de-
livers a rigorous legal education. Going
through the lengthy accreditation
process means a law school has subject-
ed itself to the scrutiny of experts.

ABA accreditation is everything for
law students, too. In California, Alabama,
Connecticut, Georgia and Maine, gradu-
ates of law schools that aren't ABA-ac-
credited are allowed to take that state's
bar exam only-provided that the school
is approved by the state bar. Everywhere
else, a graduate without a degree from an
ABA-accredited law school may not take
the bar exam or practice law.
New law schools-which in recent
years have been springing up in surpris-
ing numbers-may recruit students on
the fervent expectation of obtaining ac-
creditation by the time the students grad-
uate. Then it's up to the administration to
study the ABA's standards, hire consul-
tants and put everyone's feet to the fire to
meet those standards. Established law
schools that find themselves on the los-
ing end of a reaccreditation visit (law
schools must apply for reaccreditation
every seven years) must do the same and
scramble to appeal the ruling-or a
whole class of students might as well
throw their law degrees in the trash.
Here's what happened at two law
schools on opposite sides of the country
when the bad news came down. The
schools have little else in common. One
is the offspring of a century-old Protes-
tant university with wealthy trustees ac-
customed to success; the other is a strug-
gling urban school with a mission of
serving the needy. One lost its accredita-
tion bid because of dangerously low
funding; the other because of what the
ABA deemed to be low academic stan-
dards and a marginal faculty. One
looked to the outside in a desperate bid
for money; the other turned inside in a
whirlwind effort to clean house and
tighten the rules for students and faculty
alike. At one, the students rallied in a
show of unity, lobbied Congress on be-
half of their school and drove halfway
across the country to appeal their
school's case to the ABA. At the other,
students turned on each other as some
defended the administration while oth-
ers sued the school for fraud.

34  STUDENT LAWYER o October 1998

SHARON KITAZAWA

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