The State Bar seeks comments on proposed amendments to the law school rules regarding mandatory accreditation of law schools.
Deadline: Sept. 15, 2017
NOTE: Publication for public comment is not, and shall not, be construed as a recommendation or approval by the Board of Trustees of the materials published
Proposed Amendments to the Law School Regulation Statutes and Rules re Mandatory Accreditation of Law Schools
Since March 2013, the Committee of Bar Examiners (Committee) has spent many hours during the course of several meetings and two public forums, discussing the future of California’s registered, unaccredited law schools. Essentially, the Committee’s intention was to seek all necessary legal authority from the State Bar’s Board of Trustees, the California Supreme Court, and the California Legislature to eventually phase out unaccredited law schools while, at the same time, permitting it to accredit unaccredited law schools that use online, distance-learning technology to offer their programs of legal education.
To achieve these goals, the Committee appointed two separate “Working Groups”: Working Group I and Working Group II, both of which were comprised of Committee members and a Dean from the categories of law schools that would be affected by the proposed regulatory changes, which include California-accredited law schools (CALS) and the unaccredited law schools: fixed-facility, distance-learning and correspondence. To receive additional stakeholder input, the Committee also conducted two public forums to receive public comment from various interested parties. The first forum was held in August of 2013; the second took place in April of 2016.
In January 2015, following the initial public forum and with the input provided by the members of Working Group I, the Committee adopted, in principle, various amendments as follows:
During its meeting in March of 2015, the State Bar’s Board of Trustees approved the Committee’s then-proposed amendments referenced above. Thereafter, staff in the Office of Admissions and the Office of General Counsel worked to prepare a written submission to the Supreme Court. During that effort, however, it was decided that additional work by the Committee was needed to provide the Supreme Court with more details regarding the proposed amendments.
Additional questions arose related to such things as the timing of when unaccredited law schools would be required to seek and obtain accreditation or otherwise lose their registration, and in the substantive provisions of the Guidelines for Accredited Law School Rules to clarify how and when online legal education leading to the award of a Juris Doctor (J.D.) Degree would be found to qualify for Committee accreditation under the standards that now apply only to a J.D. curriculum offered in a classroom setting. Also discussed was shortening the amount of time for a school to achieve provisional accreditation, perhaps as few as three years from when the proposed statutory amendments are adopted by the Legislature, that the time period for all unaccredited law schools granted provisional accreditation to then achieve full accreditation be reduced from five to three years, and that the timeframe for all new law schools seeking provisional accreditation be reduced from ten years to five, leading to the eventual elimination of the Unaccredited Law School Rules and the Guidelines for Unaccredited Law School Rules.
Subsequently, the Committee also considered whether appropriate sections of the Business & Professions Code should be amended to eliminate the “three-administrations” rule, which currently provides students at unaccredited law schools up to three opportunities to pass the First-Year Law Students’ Examination (FYLSX) before they must be dismissed, to return to the historical requirement that students must pass the FYLSX in order to be advanced to their second year of law study.
There were also several more discussions regarding whether it is possible to establish an equality in the educational substance of an accredited J.D. curriculum taught in either a fixed-facility classroom or through either synchronous or asynchronous online, distance-learning technology, and what additional amendments to the Accredited Law School Rules and Guidelines for Accredited Law School Rules were found to be necessary to carry out that intention. Also needed for consideration were more transitional rules.
To receive additional substantive input, the Committee directed that a second public forum be held on April 29, 2016. Following that forum, a second Working Group was established, again comprised of law school deans from each type of law school that would be impacted by the changes along with members of the Committee, to help draft all of the necessary, proposed changes to all of the legal authorities believed needed to achieve the Committee’s goal of revising its oversight and regulation of law schools. The second Working Group then held several more meetings during which significant progress was achieved in developing all of the substantive changes thought needed to achieve the Committee’s goals.
Based upon the collective effort and work product of both Working Group I and Working Group II and after many discussions by the Committee, the proposed amendments contained in the following attachments were approved in principle by the Committee during its April 2017 meeting:
The key amendments found in each attachment include the following:
California Rules of Court, Rule 9.30: If all proposed amendments are adopted, the California Supreme Court would expressly recognize that persons attending only accredited or provisionally-accredited law schools (including either those approved by the American Bar Association or accredited by the Committee) will be eligible to be admitted to the practice of law in California (9.30(a)) (there is no intention to do away with the law office study program or those who qualify for admission through a combination of four years of law study); and that unaccredited law schools are no longer recognized as a means to qualify for admission to the practice of law in California.
Business and Professions Code Section 6046.7: If all proposed amendments are enacted, the Committee’s authority to regulate and oversee law schools would be limited to only those accredited by the Committee (its authority would not extend over any law school approved by the American Bar Association, which is consistent with current rules), and it would no longer have any authority to regulate or oversee any unaccredited law school.
Business and Professions Code Section 6060: If all proposed amendments are adopted: 1) only law students who earn J.D. degrees at CALS or ABA-approved law schools would be eligible for admission to practice law in California, except those in the Law Office Study Program or through a combination of four years of law study; 2) law students with law degrees earned outside the United States would have to establish that their degrees are equivalent to a J.D. earned at a CALS or an ABA-approved law school and that they have completed a year of study at any such law school; and 3) law students required to take the FYLSX would be required to pass the examination within the first administration of the examination after their first year of study before being advanced into their second year.
Business and Professions Code Section 6060.7: If the proposed amendments are adopted, the Committee would only be responsible for the approval, regulation and oversight of accredited law schools that are not approved by the ABA.
Accredited Law School Rules: If the proposed amendments are adopted, all references to “unaccredited law school’s registered” with the Committee would be removed and the rules would apply only to accredited or provisionally-accredited law schools.
Guidelines for Accredited Law School Rules: If the proposed amendments are adopted, the following changes would take effect: 1) all currently registered, unaccredited law schools would have three years, from the date the amendments are adopted, to apply for provisional accreditation; 2) law schools granted provisional accreditation (under Rule 4.120) would then have two additional years (possibly more if permitted by the Committee) to apply and be granted full accreditation; 3) law schools either not granted provisional accreditation or, if granted provisional accreditation that then do not receive full accreditation would have to teach out all then-enrolled students within five years; 4) an accredited J.D. curriculum, offered either at fixed-facility classrooms or through distance-learning technology, would require the satisfactory completion of 1,200 hours of “verified academic engagement” with a law school’s faculty and its curriculum; 5) academic engagement would include student attendance in a classroom, student participation in either a synchronous or asynchronous curriculum offered through distance-learning technology, or some combination of the two; and 6) all required library materials, texts and legal authorities could be offered by an accredited law school through online access only.
Following the period of public comment, the Committee will consider all comments received and prepare its final recommendation for proposed rule and statute amendments for consideration by the Board of Trustees. If the Board of Trustees approves the Committee’s recommended amendments, the proposed amendments to the Rules of Court and all other proposed amendments would be forwarded to the California Supreme Court for review, approval and adoption of the rules under its jurisdiction. Any proposed amendments to the statutes would then be included in the State Bar’s legislative program. If the proposed amendments to the Court Rules are adopted by the Court and legislative changes are ultimately signed into law, the Accredited Law School Rules and Guidelines for Accredited Law School amendments would become effective.
To be determined. Initially the workload of the Educational Standards department in the State Bar’s Office of Admissions would increase as the unaccredited law schools applied for accreditation. Eventually, however, the workload would, most likely, decrease if schools are unable to meet the requirements for accreditation.
Committee of Bar Examiners
September 15, 2017
The State Bar of California
180 Howard St.
San Francisco, CA 94105