Working professionals seeking to attend part-time law school in California have several options. California allows law schools to offer on-campus and online classes as well as accredited and unaccredited programs. Choosing the best option may seem difficult, but often an accredited on-campus program is the best choice for those who are serious about becoming an attorney in California.
Unaccredited and Accredited Law Schools in California
California is one of the few states that allows unaccredited law schools to operate. Unaccredited law schools are often attractive to working professionals or those with family obligations because the LSAT entrance exam is rarely required, admissions standards are lax and the tuition is low. Unaccredited law schools can be divided into three types: Correspondence law schools that teach primarily through recordings and online bulletin boards, Distance-learning law schools that teach primarily through online classes and Fixed-facility law schools that teach primarily on campus. A list of unaccredited law schools is available on the state bar’s website. All students attending unaccredited law schools must take a state-mandated standardized exam called the First-Year Law Students’ Examination, also known as the “Baby Bar” after the first year. However, students attending a state accredited or an ABA accredited law school in California do not have to prepare for or complete this.
Although unaccredited law schools may seem far more affordable for working professionals, the State Bar of California cautions that prospective students should refer to the pass/fail statistics for the bar exam for unaccredited law schools. Graduates of unaccredited law schools notoriously fail the bar exam often. Because the bar exam is required for licensure in California, failing the bar exam multiple times is stressful, disappointing and ultimately can be costly.
ABA Accredited and CA Accredited Law Schools
California is unique because it allows law students to attend either ABA approved law schools or state accredited law schools. ABA law schools are overseen by the American Bar Association and state accredited law schools are overseen by the State Bar of California. Graduating from either program will allow prospective attorneys to take the California bar exam, but only ABA law school graduates can take the bar exam in other states after graduating. It is important to consider the pros and cons of attending an ABA approved law school versus a California accredited law school.
State accredited law schools, known as Calbar schools, do not have to meet the stringent requirements of ABA law schools. For example, Calbar schools have lower standards for the hiring of professors, and many Calbar schools mostly hire part-time adjuncts instead of full-time professors. Calbar schools are not required to have career counselors and are not required to share their graduates’ employment rate. Calbar schools have fewer requirements for their law libraries. Calbar schools are only required to have one administrator, a dean and a registrar, leaving students lacking in vital support services.
Most importantly, Calbar schools have a lower bar pass rate than ABA law schools. Even if a graduate passes after retaking the bar exam multiple times, some employers have hiring requirements that mandate graduation from an ABA approved law school.
ABA approval is known as the “gold standard” accreditation for law schools. Attending an ABA program of legal education ensures students of quality education, proper student services and career guidance throughout law school. Working professionals who may be afraid of making the commitment will find that some schools provide convenient part-time programs to accommodate busy schedules. Western State College of Law in Irvine, for example, offers a three-night per week program in addition to a part-time day schedule. In addition, Western State’s career counselors offer consultations during a working professional’s lunch hour or during commuting times via the telephone.
Part-Time ABA Approved Programs in California
Although no public law school in California offers a part-time program, nearly all private law schools in California offer a part-time program. Of these private law schools, 11 are ABA approved.
Most of these part-time programs occur during the daytime and mix part-time students into classes with full-time students. Unfortunately, those who are working professionals tend to work during the daytime and need evening classes. Out of the 11 ABA-approved part-time programs, only seven offer part-time evening programs.
ABA Approved Law Schools in California that Offer Part-Time Evening Programs
|School||Part-Time Evening||January Start Date Offered?|
|University of San Diego||Yes||No|
Another consideration is whether a law school allows new students to start classes in January as opposed to making them wait until August, the traditional time for beginning law school. At this time, only two law schools in California offer a January start date: California Western School of Law and Western State College of Law. However, California Western only offers a part-time day program, whereas Western State offers both a part-time day and a part-time evening program in January. Many working professionals have already graduated from college and therefore do not have to wait until August to start law school. A January start date can be a convenient way to start law school sooner. Students thinking of starting school in January should plan for applying to a California law school sooner; the deadlines to apply for California Western and Western State’s spring terms are earlier than the deadlines for the fall term.
A Special Consideration for California Law Students: Traffic
Traffic in California, especially Southern California, can notoriously affect commuting time. Although Northern California’s traffic is more predictable because it is often dictated by bridges and merging traffic, Southern California’s traffic jams can be unpredictable and occur anytime. However, due to Southern California’s sprawling interconnected freeway system, commuters can often reroute using GPS. In Northern California, there are no detours around bumper-to-bumper traffic jams on a bridge. Regardless, law school students can plan ahead because the regular ebb and flow of rush hour can make commuting more predictable. Part-time evening students can usually plan ahead and arrive to class on time, and evening traffic after classes end is typically sparse.
The typical part-time evening program at both ABA and Calbar law schools is spread over four nights per week. However, some law schools, such as Western State, make commuting more manageable by spreading classes over three nights per week.
Weighing the Benefits of Part-Time Versus Full-Time Law School
While part-time law school programs are available to working professionals in California, it is important to also consider the benefits of leaving a job in order to concentrate on law school full time. Attending school part-time while working requires discipline, commitment and excellent time-management skills for four years. Although it is true that ABA approved law schools offer the same opportunities to both part-time and full-time students such as career counseling, student services, extracurricular activities and co-curricular programming, it can be difficult to take advantage of all that a school offers if a student is also working 40 or more hours per week. Committing to law school full-time allows students to graduate in three years instead of four, allows students more time to concentrate on resume building activities such as externships or Moot Court and allows students more time to concentrate on attaining high grades in order to garner scholarships to offset the cost of attendance. In addition, although law school can be expensive, working is not the only way to help pay for a legal education. By applying to the most affordable law schools in California while simultaneously strategizing ways to make your California law school tuition affordable, law students can minimize debt and expenses.
Regardless of whether working professionals attend law school part-time or full-time, opportunities abound in California at ABA accredited law schools. Working professionals seeking a career change or increased responsibilities at their current workplace can attain a juris doctor degree in a format that fits their schedule, timeline and goals. With the myriad of convenient programs available in Northern and Southern California, anyone can achieve their dream of graduating from law school.
To learn about Western State College of Law’s convenient part-time programs in Southern California, please visit Western State’s part-time program webpage.