I have gotten quite a few emails here lately from future law students asking about the differences between ABA (American Bar Association) vs. non-ABA accredited law schools. This is a interesting one and I will do my very best to weigh the pros and cons.
First of all, what does this even mean and why does it matter?? In a nutshell, this means that if you attend an ABA accredited law school, you can sit for any state's bar exam and practice, whereas there are some restrictions if you attend a non-ABA law school. All states recognize graduation from ABA-approved law schools as meeting the legal education requirements for eligibility to sit for the Bar Exam, but some states will also allow students who attended non-ABA law schools to take their Bar. (For more info on this, ask your law school dean, the Secretary of State for the state that you are considering moving to, and check the ABA website).
I have outlined some pros and cons for ABA and non-ABA law schools below, but first, let me put things in perspective. I went to Nashville School of Law ("NSL"), a wonderful, non-ABA law school and I passed the Bar Exam on my first try. Our program is four years and we had evening classes so that we could work during the day. I worked in our law library as a law librarian (haha) as well as for a local attorney. Also, our dean sat on the Tennessee Supreme Court for years and we have an all-star faculty of very well-known judges and attorneys. So, why did I choose non-ABA? In addition to the reasons listed below, one of the main reasons is that I do not want to practice law in the traditional sense my whole life. In fact, I want to do other things with my degree that do not involve going to court or giving legal advice every day, but I plan to keep my license active. Another major reason I chose non-ABA, is that I do not want to leave Tennessee.
There is no right or wrong answer here, but here are a few pros and cons to consider:
Pros: Non-ABA law school
-Lower costs- I have ZERO STUDENT DEBT and it is an amazing feeling!!
-Professors are practicing attorneys and sitting judges so they are very up-to-speed and very connected
-Strong ties in the local community
-Excellent local name recognition
-Strong alumni network
-Time to work (and try various internships) and network during the day
Cons: Non-ABA law school
-Longer program- typically four years instead of three
-Degree may not carry the same prestige as an ABA degree (FYI: no one ever asks me where I went to law school, but if they do, I am very proud of my alma mater!)
-Limited in licensing- i.e. may not be able to practice in another state right away (check ABA website)
-Sometimes lower bar passage rate
-Some have elitist educational attitudes and think ABA is the only way to go
-Sometimes, fewer choices for electives (I wish NSL had more creative electives to choose from when I was there, but they have added a lot since I graduated)
Pros ABA law school
-Not limited in licensing and can sit for any state's Bar Exam
-Three years instead of four
-Local and sometimes national name recognition
-Strong alumni network
-More electives to choose from
Cons ABA law school
-COST- could have $120,000+ in student debt
**Side note: I have so many local attorneys tell me that if they could go back, they would have gone to NSL because they are still paying student loans in their 50's. I'd rather spend that money on traveling! :-))
-Not allowed to work 1L... which does not help accruing student loan debt
-Not all professors have practiced law- some have never stepped foot inside of a courtroom
What's the verdict?? There is no right or wrong answer, other than you have to do what's best for you. If you are not sure where you want to live long-term and think you might move to a different state, it might be better to go to an ABA law school. Something else to consider, is what type of law you want to practice. If you want to do some form of highly specialized intellectual property or entertainment law, I'd pick a school with a curriculum that really focuses on those areas, which would most likely be ABA-approved. With that being said, however, you can always go to Continuing Legal Education ("CLE") courses after you graduate, so keep that in mind!
I hope all of this makes sense and answered your questions!! Feel free to email me or leave any questions you may have in the comment section below!
Be sure to also check out What to do Post Bar Exam... The Dreaded Wait
Thanks so much for stopping by! Have a wonderful weekend!!