By now, the news is out there that UNT-Dallas College of Law (“UNTDCOL”) has hit a bump in the accreditation process. I begin my 1L journey at UNTDCOL on Saturday and I have full confidence the school will secure accreditation during my matriculation. UNTDCOL has been completely transparent with its students throughout the accreditation process and in a meeting in front of the student body on August 5, 2016, they assured all students that they would take any steps necessary to conform to the ABA’s stringent admission standards to achieve accreditation.
Compare this to the lack of transparency exhibited by SMU, a school that tries hard to present itself as a top tier law school, when they decided to suspend their part-time/evening law school program. As an applicant to the SMU evening program, I found out of their decision to suspend the program through an article on Texas Lawyer. About a month later, I received an email from SMU explaining their decision to suspend the part-time program and offering a position on the “wait list” for their full-time program.
But I digress, this post is not about SMU, but rather UNTDCOL.
Let us consider the facts:
- On July 11, 2016 the American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar’s (‘reporting committee”) sent a letter to UNTDCOL informing the school that they were recommending that the Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar of the American Bar Association (“the accrediting committee”) not grant UNTDCOL accreditation at this time.
- The reporting committee found that the curriculum and faculty at UNTDCOL were satisfactory, but suggested that the school admissions criteria, specifically as it relates to LSAT scoring, put the school at risk of admitting a high number of students unable to pass the bar.
- The reporting committee’s recommendation is non-binding, meaning the ABA could choose to not accept the reporting committee’s recommendation and grant UNTDCOL accreditation.
- UNTDCOL was originally scheduled to appear before the accrediting committee on August 5, 2016 to receive its decision, but since the reporting committee did not send their letter until July 11, 2016, UNTDCOL would not have had their allotted 30 days to respond, so the accrediting committee moved UNTDCOL’s hearing to their next scheduled meeting in October 2016.
- UNTDCOL is actively preparing a response to the reporting committee’s assertion that it’s admission standards could potentially admit a high number of students unable to pass the bar.
This entire process raises a number of questions.
Is there any correlation between LSAT scores and bar passages rates?
There have been no peer studied reviews conducted that show there is any correlation between LSAT scores and bar passage rates. The cynic in me wants to say that the only thing a high LSAT scores proves is that you had the resources to take a prep course, but I know that the LSAT has been proven to be an effective indicator of success for the first year of law school, but that’s completely different than being an effective indicator of bar success.
Conservative columnist Megan McArdle penned a syndicated piece in which she argues in favor of the ABA of revoking accreditation for law schools that fail to prepare its students to pass the bar exam. She stops short of telling us what she thinks an acceptable passage rate for a school would be, but says “a large majority of them.”
Let’s take a look at the bar passage rate for the nine law schools in Texas currently accredited by the ABA. As you can see in the chart below, the University of Texas boasts the highest median LSAT score of any accredited law school in the state, yet the bar passage rate for its students over the past three years has been in the bottom third. Meanwhile, Texas A&M University School of Law, whose median LSAT score of 156 ranks right in the middle of the nine accredited Texas law schools, has the second highest bar passage rate over the same amount of time.
Why then is the ABA taking such a hard stand against UNTDCOL’s admission standards?
It seems that UNTDCOL might be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The U.S. Department of Education’s National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity threatened to take away accreditation powers from the ABA.This explains why the ABA would be reluctant to simply rubber stamp UNTDCOL’s accreditation, but the facts show UNTDCOL has earned its accreditation, in spite of possibly admitting some students with less than stellar LSAT scores.
What remains a bigger is mystery is why conservatives like McArdle are all of a sudden seeking to embolden the powers of the Department of Education. Strange bedfellows for sure, but I think Dallas City Councilman, Philip Kingston, might be on to something. In a responding to the July 11 letter, Kingston wrote:
The practice of law in America, especially civil law, has become exclusively the province of corporations and the extremely rich. It’s just flat too expensive. When an entire industry fails to offer even the most basic service to the vast majority of our citizens, that’s a system failure. The legal education system has been entirely complicit in this failure. The admissions criteria for law students are very high, and the cost of tuition is stratospheric. Students exit with few choices other than to seek the maximum hourly rate they can possibly earn. The UNT model seeks to ameliorate this system failure at least slightly.
Kingston’s argument makes sense. In her article, McArdle does goes after trial lawyers like John Edwards.
From my perspective, as someone who has worked in the legal field for seventeen years, the bigger concern is students graduating from law school with no real world legal experience. Sure, they can wax eloquently about legal theory, but they have no idea how real world litigation works. I have seen it firsthand in young associates I have worked with and in negotiating settlement agreements with defense attorneys on my own.
In later posts, I will discuss how I have been able to collect on violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”), on my own without any outside legal counsel, by simply writing a letter and making a phone call. Most companies dump consumer litigation in the laps of young attorneys fresh out of law school. Not only do these young attorneys not fully understand the TCPA, but they also haven’t yet mastered the art of negotiating.
I am not the only one who feels this way. 3Ls and young associates alike realize that most law schools rob them of experiential learning opportunities. UNTDCOL is well ahead of the game in this regard and has placed a premium on experiential learning opportunities.
By the time I graduate in 2020, I predict UNTDCOL will have earned its accreditation from either the ABA or Department of Education, that UNTDCOL graduates will be passing the bar at a 70% rate, and that we will come out with more experience and be better prepared to jump into a legal career. For those reasons, I am not afraid to attend UNTDCOL while it waits to earn its accreditation.