The online Official Guide allows you to download Standard 509 Information and Employment Summary data charts for each ABA-approved law school. The>Guide also contains links to other legal education statistics and resources.
How does the accreditation process work?
A law school may not apply for provisional approval until it has been in operation for one year. Schools considering applying for provisional approval are strongly encouraged to contact the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar as early as possible, and well before the year in which the school applies for provisional approval. Once a school has obtained provisional approval, it remains in provisional status for at least three years. After a school is granted full approval, it undergoes a full site evaluation in the third year after full approval, and then a full sabbatical site evaluation every seven years. Once a school is granted full ABA-approval, it remains on the list of approved law schools until it is removed by a desicion of the Council or it closes.
Approval of Law Schools
What is ABA approval of law schools?
Since 1952, the Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar of the American Bar Association has been recognized by the United States Department of Education as the national agency for the accreditation of programs leading to the J.D. degree in the United States.
Law schools that are ABA-approved provide a legal education that meets a minimum set of standards promulgated by the Council and Accreditation Committee of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. Every U.S. jurisdiction has determined that graduates of ABA-approved law schools are eligible to sit for the bar exam in their respective jurisdiction.
What is the difference between attending an ABA-approved law school and a non-ABA approved law school?
The ABA Standards for Approval of Law Schools assure that students who attend ABA-approved law schools will receive a sound program of legal education. Schools not approved by the ABA need not comply with these Standards and the ABA can make no representation about the quality of the program of legal education offered at non-approved law schools.
In many states, a person may not sit for the bar examination unless that person holds a J.D. degree from an ABA-approved law school.
What is the status of students who attend or graduate from a law school that is not ABA approved?
All states recognize graduation from an ABA-approved law school as meeting the legal education requirements for eligibility to sit for the bar examination. Graduates of non-ABA-approved law schools should check the legal education requirements of the jurisdiction(s) in which they intend to seek admission in the Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements.
A law school’s status during a person’s matriculation at the law school is controlling for purposes of determining eligibility to take the bar. For example, if a law school receives provisional approval after a person graduates, the graduate does not then become a graduate of an ABA-approved law school.
A law school seeking provisional approval may not delay conferring a J.D. upon a student in anticipation of obtaining approval. An approved law school may not retroactively grant a J.D. degree as an approved school to a student who graduated from the law school before its approval.
What is the status of students who attend or graduate from a law school that is provisionally approved?
Individuals who graduate from a provisionally approved law school are considered by the ABA to be graduates of an ABA-approved law school. Most states follow this policy. However, students should always check individual state requirements concerning their ability to take the bar exam.
ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools
What are the ABA Standards for Approval of Law Schools?
The Standards contain the requirements that a law school must meet to obtain and retain ABA approval. Interpretations that follow the Standards provide additional guidance concerning the implementation of a particular Standard and have the same force and effect as a Standard.
What are the ABA Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools?
The Rules of Procedure govern the accreditation process through which decisions concerning the status of individual schools are made. The Rules also contain provisions related to the operation of the Office of the Managing Director of Accreditation and Legal Education.
Can the Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar provide advice to students regarding actions taken by a law school?
Law schools that are ABA-approved provide a program of legal education that meets a minimum set of standards promulgated by the Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. The standards are found in the ABA Standard and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools. Law schools are responsible for making sure that they comply with the Standards and may establish policies that exceed the requirements of the Standards. Through annual reporting and sabbatical or provisional site evaluations, law schools are monitored for compliance with the Standards.
Neither the Council nor the Managing Director’s Office can provide advice on whether a particular decision of a law school on an individual student matter is required by or in compliance with the Standards. Students should work directly with their law school to resolve any issues.
For complaints alleging non-compliance with the Standards, see the FAQ on Complaints.
Standard 308 requires that law schools adopt, publish, and adhere to sound academic standards, including those for good standing, academic integrity, graduation and dismissal. The Council does not review law school decisions on academic dismissal. Students should work directly with the law school to resolve any questions.
Admission or readmission after academic dismissal
Standard 501(c) provides that a law school shall not admit or readmit a student who has been disqualified previously for academic reasons without an affirmative showing that the prior disqualification does not indicate a lack of capacity to complete its program of legal education and be admitted to the bar. For every admission or readmission of a previously disqualified individual, a statement of the considerations that led to the decision shall be placed in the admittee’s file.
Admission to the Bar
The criteria for eligibility to take the bar examination or to otherwise qualify for bar admission are set by each state, not by the ABA or the Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.
All states recognize graduation from an ABA-approved law school as meeting the legal education requirements for eligibility to sit for the bar. In addition to legal education requirements, there are also character, fitness, and, other qualifications for admission to the bar in every U.S. jurisdiction.
Students and applicants to law schools should always check with the bar admissions authority in the jurisdictions in which they intend to seek admission concerning the requirements for eligibility to be admitted to the bar. Information on each state's rules and a directory of state bar admission agencies can be found in the Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements.
Admissions to Law School
What can I do if a school does not admit me because of my grades or my LSAT score?
Standards 501-503 address minimum requirements for admission. Law schools set their own admission standards, which may exceed the requirements of the Standards. The Council does not review law school admission decisions. Students should work directly with the law school to resolve admissions matters.
The numbers and percentages of students who leave a law school before graduation can be found in the JD Attrition category on each law school's Standard 509 Information chart in the Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools.
Character, Fitness, and Other Requirements for Admission
In addition to legal education requirements, there are also character, fitness, and other qualifications for admission to the bar in every U.S. jurisdiction. Students should refer to Charts 2 and 5 of the Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements for information about character, fitness, and other requirements in the jurisdiction(s) in which they intend to seek admission.
Rules 42-48 of the ABA Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools governs the filing of complaints against law schools. The Section's Council will not intervene with an approved law school on behalf of an individual with a complaint against or concern regarding action taken by a law school that adversely affects that individual. For more information on the complaint process, visit the Section's page on Complaints Alleging Non-Compliance with the Standards.
Completion of the J.D. Program
The course of study for the J.D. degree must be completed no earlier than 24 months and, except in extraordinary circumstances, no later than 84 months after a student has commenced law study at the law school or a law school from which the school has accepted transfer credit. See Standard 311(b).
Interpretation 311-2 provides guidance on what might be considered extraordinary circumstances to exceed the 84-month limitation in Standard 311(b).
The Council does not approve any law schools that provide a J.D. degree completely via distance education. Standard 306 outlines the instances in which distance education courses may be counted for credit toward the J.D. degree at an ABA-approved law school. Chart 3 of the Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements addresses the means of legal study other than attendance at an ABA-approved law school that are permitted in each jurisdiction to be eligible to sit for the bar examination.
For more information, visit the Section's Distance Education page.
Eligibility to take the Bar Examination: Foreign Lawyers
Foreign lawyers who wish to sit for the bar examination should refer to Chart 4: Eligibility to Take the Bar Examination in the Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements and contact the state board of examiners in the state(s) in which they wish to sit for the bar exam. A directory of state bar admission agencies can be found in the Comprehensive Guide.
Granting Credit for Prior Law Study
Except as provided in Standard 505 (Granting of J.D. Degree Credit for Prior Law Study) no credit can be given for toward a J.D. degree for coursework taken before a student has matriculated as a J.D student in an ABA-approved law school. [See Standard 311(e)]
Under Standard 505, credit may be given toward a J.D. degree for courses taken at another ABA-approved law school, at a state approved law school, or at a law school outside the United States. Credit hours for courses taken at a state approved law school or at a law school outside the United States are limited to one-third of the total credits required for graduation by the admitting law school. A student who is given credit for prior law study must also successfully complete all of the requirements for graduation at the admitting law school.
The Standards act only as a minimum guideline to schools’ policies. It is not only possible but probable that the school you wish to receive your degree from may have additional restrictions.
ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools
Standard 308 states that a law school may not establish a degree program other than its J.D. program without obtaining the Council's prior acquiescence. Additionally, a law school may not establish a degree program in addition to its J.D. program unless the school is fully approved.
ABA accreditation does not extend to any program supporting degrees other than the J.D. that may be granted by the law school. Rather, the content and requirements of those degrees, such as an LL.M., are created by the law school itself and do not reflect any judgment by the ABA accrediting bodies regarding the quality of the program. Moreover, admission requirements for such programs, particularly with regard to foreign students, vary from school to school, and are not evaluated through the ABA accreditation process.
The Accreditation Committee and Council review post-J.D. degree programs only to determine whether the offering os such post-J.D. programs would have an adverse impact on the law school's ability to maintain its accreditation for the J.D. program. If no adverse impact in indicated, the Council "acquiesces" in the law school's decision to offer the non-J.D. program and degree.
LIST OF POST-J.D. AND NON-J.D PROGRAMS
A list of post-J.D. and non-J.D. programs that have received Council acquiescence can be found on the Section's Web site.
Ranking of Law Schools
No ranking or rating of law schools beyond the simple statement of their accreditation status is attempted or advocated by the official organizations in legal education. The American Bar Association and its Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar have issued disclaimers of any law school ranking system. Prospective law students should consider a variety of factors in making their choice among schools:Evaluating Law Schools
Standard 304(f), which restricted student employment to 20 hours per week, was eliminated in 2014. ABA-approved law schools may continue to retain a student employment rule even though it is no longer required by the Standards.