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Monday, September 5, 2016
The Interesting Case of a Texas Law School
The University of North Texas at Dallas College of Law first opened its doors in 2014, with an unusual stated mission. The school sought to afford reasonable tuition and encouraged applications from "non-traditional" law school applicants. In law school parlance, this meant students with a variety of life, work, and service experiences who did not necessarily possess the academic credentials required at the more "competitive" law schools.
Two years after its inception, it was delivered a crushing blow. The national accrediting body for all U.S. law schools-the American Bar Association (ABA) has recommended against accreditation for the school. In Texas, only law students from ABA-accredited schools can sit the Texas bar exam.
The ABA is stuck between a proverbial rock and a hard place. If it isn't strict enough in its accreditation, law schools may churn out students unprepared for the rigors of the bar exam. On the other hand, if it is too strict, qualified candidates that might not otherwise make the cut in law school will never get the chance to become attorneys.
Certainly, accreditation is vital to a profession that depends on the skills and competence of its practitioners. And there are links between high LSAT scores and bar passage. But relying on the current elite model means that law practice will always be populated by the privileged.
UNT offered an alternative. It encouraged ex-military, mature students, and other students who hadn't taken the direct route to apply. It recognized that there are many low-income populations requiring service of legal practitioners and that students graduating with six-figure debt aren't likely to take low paying legal-aid jobs.
The ABA's announcement threatens UNT and affordable schools like it across the country. For now, the nation's law school system continues to be riddled with struggles and lacks clear, positive solutions.
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