Revamped Law School Accreditation Rules Approved

legal books and a law library with lighting
(Steven J. Pepple/Steven Pepple -

At its meeting on May 13, 2021, the State Bar Board of Trustees adopted new accreditation rules for California accredited law schools. The new rules, effective Jan. 1 of next year, refocus California accreditation on its essential purposes, incorporate best practices, and provide a framework to recognize law schools that are accredited by regional or national accreditors.

“This effort is the latest example in the State Bar’s many efforts to broaden access to quality legal education in our diverse state,” said Donna Hershkowitz, Interim Executive Director. “The new accreditation rules will ensure that law schools and the State Bar are focusing on what matters most to ensure positive student outcomes and ultimately support our efforts to protect the public.”

California offers more pathways to the law than any other state and is one of only a handful of states that permit accreditation other than by the American Bar Association (ABA). The nearly two dozen law schools currently accredited by California offer accessible, affordable, and flexible options for law students.

The revised rules further four key purposes for accreditation of California law schools:

• Consumer protection and transparency

• Student success

• Diversity, equity and inclusion

• Preparation for licensure and professionalism

Refocusing the accreditation rules on these four purposes creates a clear, understandable public protection framework for accreditation in keeping with the State Bar’s mission. Each provision in the revamped rules describes a specific, measurable action designed to fulfill one or more of these purposes. Prior accreditation requirements that did not further any of these specific purposes were eliminated, and new requirements were added to ensure that schools are meeting these goals.

The rules also include a new jointly accredited status for law schools that have earned an institutional accreditation (other than from the ABA). Law schools not accredited by the ABA, or their parent institutions, are most likely to earn this accreditation through the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission, the major accreditor of most West Coast universities, the Distance Education Accrediting Commission, a national accreditor, or one of six other regional accreditors.

The new rules will be effective Jan. 1, 2022, but currently accredited law schools will not be required to demonstrate compliance until Jan. 1, 2024. The Board’s approval completes more than two years of effort undertaken by the Committee of Bar Examiners and the Committee of State Bar Accredited and Registered Schools, with numerous opportunities for public comment.

The State Bar of California’s mission is to protect the public and includes the primary functions of licensing, regulation and discipline of attorneys; the advancement of the ethical and competent practice of law; and support of efforts for greater access to, and inclusion in, the legal system.