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Monday, March 19, 2018

Lega Ed's Futures: No. 27 (Jackie Gardina, guest post)

I want to thank Michael Madison and Dan Rodriguez for inviting me to join this conversation about the future of legal education. I have enjoyed the posts and the insights offered by so many of my colleagues.

I hope I can add a different perspective, one that challenges an explicit or implicit assumption in almost every post – that ABA accreditation is a necessary part of the future of legal education. It’s not. Indeed, in some states graduating from an ABA- accredited law school is not necessary to obtain a license to practice law. If we are willing to look beyond an exclusive ABA model and work with state bars, we may discover that we can address some of the issues raised and engage in the innovation necessary to respond to a changing legal market.

I come to this conversation with some experience. Almost two years ago I left a tenured faculty position at an ABA-accredited law school to become the dean of a small California Accredited Law School (CALS). California is one of a handful of states to allow aspiring lawyers to take the bar exam without going to an ABA- accredited law school. My school, the Santa Barbara and Ventura Colleges of Law (COL), is accredited by the state bar as well as the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

Although some colleagues questioned my decision, I had no hesitation. I wanted to be part of an institution that lived its mission to provide an affordable, accessible, and quality legal education. I wanted to be part of an institution where the sole focus was on opening the doors to the legal profession and improving student outcomes, untethered to a ranking system. I also wanted to be a part of an institution that embraced innovation.

I have no doubt that I made the right decision.  Since its founding nearly fifty years ago, COL has been committed to creating a pathway to the legal profession for non-traditional students. The school’s demographics data show significant diversity across age, gender, and race. The student population is approximately half men and half women with an average age of 35. Nearly 50 percent of students identify as students of color and a growing number of our students are first-generation college and graduate students.

COL also works to ensure that students have the tools they need to succeed on the bar. The school’s cumulative bar passage rate on the California bar is 70% and 67% of the 2017 graduating class passed the bar, nearly matching the ABA pass rate. Yet, the school does not require an LSAT or GRE score for admission.  Aided by the state bar’s flexible admission standards, the school is able to open the door to the legal profession for a diverse group of individuals.

Importantly in today’s environment, the school is committed to helping individuals meet their goal to obtain a JD without saddling them with seemingly insurmountable student debt. Students at COL currently pay $67,620 for their entire J.D. degree. And all students pay the same tuition rate. While the school and the local legal community offer modest scholarships, the school does not “discount” tuition based on an LSAT score or undergraduate GPA.

Finally, the state bar is also open to innovation in educational models. In August 2018, COL will become the first accredited law school in California to launch a hybrid JD program. In creating this new program, COL sought to address the long-standing critiques of legal education by employing advances in educational research and pedagogy to provide students a solid foundation in the basic skills needed to enter the practice of law as well as succeed on the bar exam. In short, it is built to expand opportunities and improve student outcomes. You can read more about the program and its origin at https://www.collegesoflaw.edu/blog/2018/03/05/hybrid-jd-program-backstory/.

COL is an example of what can happen when a state bar is open to creative pathways to licensure. While currently most state bars require that an applicant graduate from an ABA-accredited law school to sit for the bar, thus providing only one option to enter the legal profession, perhaps the time has come for expanding those options.  

Our discussion about the future of legal education shouldn’t exclusively focus on changing the ABA, but instead it should include challenging state bars to create alternative pathways to licensure.

Jackie Gardina (Santa Barbara & Ventura Colleges of Law)

Posted by Dan Rodriguez on March 19, 2018 at 06:13 PM | Permalink


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