Should I Go to a State-Accredited Law School?

QI am about to enroll at a state-accredited law school because the cost is a fraction of the cost of an ABA-accredited school. Plus, my LSAT scores aren’t as competitive to obtain a decent amount of scholarships at an ABA school.

I have average grades and an average LSAT score, but a wealth of experience in engineering, an MBA, and a good rapport with customers. People skills are my strongest attribute.

My question is: Will I be limiting my legal career graduating from a state-accredited law school? If I am fortunate enough to get through law school and pass the bar, I don’t intend on leaving California, where the school is accredited. I know that I probably don’t have a shot at big law firms, but can I leverage my engineering background, my MBA degree, and my experience in the utility and real estate world to land a job at any big or small law firm?

AWill you be limiting your legal career? Yes. Can you leverage your experience, skills, and simpatico for customers to become a successful lawyer in California? Yes. Will it be easy? Hell no. In fact, if you’ve got an MBA already, I’m not convinced—at least today—of the value of an added JD. And I’m not sure how valuable that JD will be if it’s on vellum paper supplied by a state-accredited school. But if it’s your dream to be a lawyer, then I’m not standing in the way of that dream. Well, just a sec.

A few things should line up to make a state-accredited law school worth the time, money, and street hustle to become a California lawyer. One, if you plan to practice law, plan to be stuck in California. Very few states even allow you to sit for the bar if you are not a graduate of an ABA-accredited school. If you are young, mobile, and have lots of options and thoughts on where to live and work as a lawyer, then those are strikes against going to a state-accredited California law school.

Two, the school’s record for creating successful lawyers should at least be marginally decent. Marginally, as I’m not sure some ABA-accredited schools are much better. If a school cannot produce a decent amount of successful lawyers, you’re wasting your time. Hit up as many alumni you can find from your proposed law school and get them to answer very specific and pointed questions about how they did and what they encountered. Honestly, you need to be challenged to learn anything, and some state-accredited law schools don’t even require an undergraduate degree in order to enroll.

So, ask about the other students at the school. Ask about passing the California bar. Ask about any real barriers to practice. Ask them if it was worth it, bottom line. If you cannot find enough alumni to talk with, that’s a bad sign. And if in your gut you wonder how the hell the people you talk to even made it through law school and can make a living, then don’t bother going. You really need to be convinced that the challenge and the JD you get is worth something, anything, and opens doors to a practice or something better than you’ve got today.

Three, take a look at whether you can transfer later to an ABA-accredited school near you, if it makes a difference to you. Hell, with employers these days thinking of a JD as an extended liberal arts degree, why not think of a state-accredited school as the equivalent first step in the community college to college route. It’s a hell of a lot cheaper. But, as you may already know, it’s pretty slim pickings in finding an ABA-accredited school that will accept state-accredited law school transfers. Call them snooty, but they look down on state-accredited schools, as do plenty of attorneys and state bars. That’s the biggest psychological obstacle you’ve got— colleagues, prospective employers, or even a Cooley grad saying “isn’t that a correspondence school?”

But, if you can get through school, pass the California bar, and figure out how to run your own California-based practice (especially if you possess the mad business and customer skills that you say you have), then, shit yeah, why not give it a go? But run the hard numbers, pin down alumni, and be careful about this decision, because you’ll be stuck with all of its limitations and potential baggage for many years.

Bottom line, do what your gut tells you to do. If it tells you no, don’t rationalize a decision to enroll anyway. And if it tells you yes, go for it. But be prepared to tell the snooty ABA-accredited TTT folks out there to fuck off when they question your credentials later. OK, maybe not fuck off. Just be prepared. Just say it’s a California thing. Or, if things go well and you end up practicing law or working for a firm, you can say “hey, Touro grad, at least I got a job.”

Ex-Bitter is a former big firm lawyer who now doles out advice to anyone who asks. Got a question? Email it to advice@bitterlawyer.com. Or read more Advice from an Ex-Bitter.

5 Comments

  1. AG

    November 4, 2011 at 6:20 pm

    I am currently going to a Tennessee state accredited law school. It’s been around 100 years, literally. There is some crazy stat like 60% of all current Tenn. judges went to this school. (citation omitted). That doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me is 1. the price. I think after paying for 4 years of school my tuition will be right at, if even, $30K. Also, it’s a “pay as you go”, so when I’m done I will have no debt. 2. When we are in a courtroom, how can anyone tell the difference between me, the Vandy, the U of Tenn, or the U of Memphis? You can’t. We will be in the same courtrooms, working together or against each other, and the difference is they will be paying student debt for the next decade.

    • Guano Dubango

      November 5, 2011 at 10:41 am

      But you must remain in Tennessee, no? If you want to do that, you should be fine, but it is not good to stay in the same place forever.

      To preserve my royal bloodlines, I traveled to the USA from my home country in search of the finest breeding women to bring home to Ghana. While I have not found one worthy enough to become the royal princess, I have dipped my wick in many an American woman, mostly legal students and paralegals, in the search for such breeder. You must spread your wings, be it in the law or in the bedroom. That is the only way you will be able to have a better sampling of what is out there.

      • bgurrl

        May 20, 2013 at 1:33 pm

        That’s not necessarily true. It depends on the state rules on sitting for the bar.

  2. Gema

    November 6, 2011 at 10:04 pm

    Don’t go! Seriously! Have you read about the employment prospects for law grads with real degrees???? You have an MBA and an engineering background… stick with that!

    • bgurrl

      May 20, 2013 at 1:34 pm

      That is a real degree Gema. LOL

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