Accreditation is “to recognize an educational institution as maintaining standards that qualify the graduates for admission to higher or more specialized institutions or for professional practice.” Law schools generally fall into categories of accreditation such as:
- American Bar Association (ABA) accredited, and
- State accredited
The ABA is the national accrediting body for law schools. It has enabled accreditation to become unified and national in scope with the potential for inconsistency, among the 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and other territories. The Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar is the United States Department of Education recognized accrediting agency for programs that lead to the first professional degree in law.
Each state has its own accreditation process. However, most of the states give accreditation status to ABA accredited schools. State requirements vary by state.
ABA Accreditation Process
Under Title 34, Chapter VI, §602 of the Code of Federal Regulations, the Council and the Accreditation Committee of the ABA Section of Legal Education promulgates the Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools which law schools must comply in order to be ABA-approved. The law school approval process established by the Council is designed to provide a careful and comprehensive evaluation of a law school and its compliance with the Standards. An Accreditation Committee of 19 members assists the Council in evaluating schools seeking provisional or full approval.
A law school has to be in operation for one year before it may apply for provisional approval by the ABA. The applicant school is required to develop an extensive self-study including a critical evaluation of the school’s strengths and weaknesses and establishing goals for the school’s future progress. The school is required to complete a site evaluation questionnaire that provides much of the information that a site evaluation team needs to ascertain.
A law school must remain in provisional status for at least three years. However, a school may not remain in provisional status for more than five years. A school must demonstrate that it is in full compliance with each of the standards, in order to be granted full approval. After provisional approval, a visit to the school by a full site evaluation team is conducted in years two, four, and five. Moreover, a limited site evaluation by one or two site evaluators is conducted during years one and three. Thereafter, a site evaluation report is submitted to the school and the Accreditation Committee. The Accreditation Committee reviews the site report and the school’s response. The Committee sends the school a letter indicating any areas where the Committee concludes the school does not yet fully comply with the Standards.
Finally, after reviewing the findings, conclusions, and recommendations of the Accreditation Committee, decisions on full approval are made only by the Council.
AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION
Section of Legal Education
and Admissions to the Bar
321 North Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60654-7598