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The state bar of California recently approved rules for the regulation of unaccredited law schools, despite some concerns voiced by state law deans. The rules, which go into effect on Jan. 1, 2008, include requirements that unaccredited schools maintain adequate records, pay oversight fees and meet minimum library standards. Deans of California’s accredited law schools worry that the new regulations will blur the line between their institutions and the unaccredited schools. Deans from the unaccredited schools fear the new rules will endanger their “nonbar” J.D. degrees. Adopted by the State Bar of California Board of Governors last month, the rules are modeled on those governing accredited law schools, which the state Committee of Bar Examiners already regulates. Oversight of unaccredited law schools, which include correspondence, distance-learning and fixed-facility schools, was previously left to the state’s Bureau for Private, Postsecondary and Vocational Education until state legislation shifted the responsibility to the state bar. Law schools in California fall into three categories: accreditation by the American Bar Association (ABA), accreditation by the California Committee of Bar Examiners and unaccredited. There are currently 20 schools in California that receive accreditation from the ABA and are thus automatically approved by the Committee of Bar Examiners. Eighteen schools are accredited only by the state committee. There are 29 unaccredited correspondence and distance-learning law schools currently registered with the Committee of Bar Examiners. During a 90-day public-comment period, some unaccredited schools voiced concern about the new rule that J.D. programs must qualify a student for the state bar exam. For some schools, this conflicts with “nonbar” J.D. degrees available to students who complete their study but do not pass the First-Year Law Students’ Examination within three tries, a requirement students at unaccredited law schools must meet to qualify to sit for the state’s bar exam. Students at law schools accredited by the state or the ABA are exempt. Concord Law School, an online distance-learning school owned by Kaplan Inc. and based in Los Angeles, offers students the option of an “Executive Juris Doctorate” (EJD) degree, which does not require them to pass the state first-year exam. “We believe there’s a very legitimate place for a professional law degree that does not qualify someone to sit for the bar,” said Barry Currier, dean of Concord Law School. “The way the regulations are written, they don’t do as good a job as they could in dealing with that issue.” According to Gayle Murphy, the California bar’s senior executive for admissions, an acceptable title for nonbar programs will have to be figured out through the guidelines, which the Committee of Bar Examiners hopes to determine in the next few months. In a memorandum to the Board of Governors, Murphy suggested that titles such as “EJD” or “LL.B.” are too similar to “J.D.,” and are therefore “not appropriate,” which may force some schools to rename and subsequently remarket their nonbar programs.

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