The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court gave a boost to on-line legal education (and declined to bow down to the ABA) recently when it allowed a graduate of Concord Law School, an entirely on-line law school owned by Kaplan, Inc., to sit for the Massachusetts Bar Exam, despite a state rule that prohibits graduates from unaccredited law schools from taking the exam. The decision is available on-line (of course!).
The vast majority of state and territorial jurisdictions will only let students sit for the bar exam if they have graduated from an ABA-accredited law school. The idea is to set some minimum standards for legal education, such as the student-faculty ratio, the number of total credits, clinical education and writing requirements, etc. The standards are quite extensive, available here. The ABA only allows a total of 12 credits of on-line education in the course of obtaining a three-year law degree.
On-line schools argue that legal education could be 50% to 75% cheaper if it didn’t have to support multi-million dollar library collections, bricks and mortar school buildings, and faculty scholarship. Unfortunately, getting an on-line degree and being admitted in California (which allows grads of unaccredited schools to sit for its exam) is of little use if your family later decides to move to one of the many states that won’t allow you to be admitted on motion or by exam because of the school from which you graduated.
The Massachusetts decision is written as a one-off: they didn’t find their rule regarding accredited schools unconstitutional or unenforceable, but they thought that the applicant was really smart (after all, they said, they read all his pro se briefs) and the ABA has recently announced that it will be reviewing its accreditation standards. The Court could not predict what the ABA would decide, but seemed very hopeful. Hence, they gave the applicant a waiver of the usual requirements.
If more states follow Massachusetts, the whole rationale for the ABA’s rigid accreditation standards may start to erode. It looks as though there will be some pressure on the ABA to lead legal education into the 21st century.