Monday, January 19, 2009

Commentary: ABA vs. Non-ABA Law School?

As many can attest, there is not a "one size fits all" approach that can be taken in choosing a law school. For most students, an American Bar Association ("ABA")-certified school is arguably the preferred route. Nonetheless, I would submit there are limited instances where the selection of a non-ABA (but state-certified) law school may be appropriate. The key is to make the decision--whatever it is--as objectively as possible and in full understanding of the consequences. Of course I would hasten to add that from an LDS perspective, such decisions should also be made prayerfully.

Factors weighing into the decision would include (but is not limited to) the following--
  1. Whether someone is entering law school directly from an undergraduate or bachelor's degree, or if there has been an intervening number of years of work experience;
  2. Whether that person can afford to proceed to law school without outside employment (even after considering the availability of student loans and scholarships), or whether the person must remain employed;
  3. The availability of law schools within a reasonable driving distance of home and employment;
  4. Whether the student would be willing to relocate solely for the purposes of entering into a law school;
  5. Whether the law school's schedule will be compatible with outside employment; or in the alternative, whether a night school is available;
  6. Whether the school is ABA accredited; or in the alternative, whether one would be able to accept the implications of going to a school that only has state accreditation (including certain jurisdictional limitations on where one can practice, or possible disabilities relating to transfer or relocation to other states);
  7. Family considerations (i.e., spouse, dependants, significant others, etc.);
  8. The quality of the school(s) being considered, independent of the certification issue, including the track record of students that have have previously graduated from the school;
  9. The student's prior accomplishments and legal aptitude (i.e., GPA and LSAT), including whether the student will be able to receive one or more scholarships at the desired school;
  10. The cost of tuition for the schools being considered (or alternatively, the estimated amount of debt one will face after completion of studies); and,
  11. One's reasons for going to law school in the first place, and to what extent these reasons are career-oriented.

Arguably, it would seem as if the last factor would be among the most important. If one's motive is specifically to join the top 5% of law firms anywhere in the country, or to work in a high profile position in federal or state government, the school one goes to becomes highly relevant. At the other extreme, there are those who study the law purely from the standpoint of personal interest or to supplement knowledge in one's current career. In such instances, the school becomes somewhat less relevant.

Between these extremes are combinations of personal interest and career in various amounts, and these have to be balanced out carefully against the remaining factors as outlined above. #SJR#

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