Does More Scrutiny Lie Ahead for Non-JD Programs?

scrutiny for non-JD programsA few weeks ago, two law schools made headlines for failing to meet ABA Accreditation standards. Charlotte School of Law was put on probation and Valparaiso University School of Law was censured. This came about after the accrediting body, the Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, was almost suspended earlier this year due to concerns about the Council’s enforcement standards.

As the Council increasingly scrutinizes JD programs across the country, another question arises: should the Council start examining non-JD programs as well?

Currently, the Council does not accredit non-JD programs. It will only look at non-JD programs in special circumstances. In fact, the Council will only review these programs to “determine whether the offering would have an adverse impact on the law school’s ability to maintain its accreditation for its current JD program, and if no adverse impact is indicated, the ABA ‘acquiesces’ in the law school’s decision to offer the non-JD program and degree.”

So, why does this matter?

As many of our readers know, law school enrollment numbers have been down over the last several years. At the same time, however, non-JD enrollment in U.S. law schools has actually gone up.

In 2012, about 1 out of every 14 students (about 7.4% of students) were enrolled in a non-JD program. One year later, that number rose to 8%, about 1 in 12 students. Then, in 2015, 10.3% of law school students were enrolled in a non-JD program. That’s 1 out of every 10 students. And the trend shows no sign of slowing down.

If law school enrollment numbers are up, what’s the concern? It partly has to do with bar passage rates, one of the many criteria considered when the ABA accredits JD programs. Non-JD programs include LLM programs, programs utilized by many foreign law graduates use. Associate Professor at Pepperdine University School of Law, Derek T. Muller, did some digging and analyzed how this group of students performed on the bar exam.

According to his findings, in 2015, out of the 6,529 people who took the bar exam that year from outside of the country, over 90% of the test-takers took the exam in New York and California. In these states, those taking the exam must have additional education from an ABA-accredited school. But, as we noted earlier, the ABA doesn’t accredit these non-JD programs.

Thus, when Professor Muller looked at cumulative bar passage rates of non-US law graduates (many of whom completed a non-JD program at an ABA-accredited law school) and compared them to the rates of ABA-accredited JD programs, he found a dramatic difference in the numbers. The passage rate of the ABA graduates in the United States was at 64.4%, while those non-US law graduates who completed a non-JD program at an ABA approved law school was at 28%.

What impact will these numbers have on ABA accreditation standards? What changes should lie ahead for these programs, if any? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

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