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An accredited law school is a law school that has received accreditation from a third-party accrediting agency. In many places, only individuals who have completed a law degree from an accredited law school are eligible to sit for the bar exam or to practice law. In some places, a law school must be accredited by a specific accreditor if its students are to go on to practice law. In the United States as of 2011, almost all states require those who sit for their state bar exam to have completed a law degree accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA).
The accreditation of schools is typically a matter of a school undergoing a rigorous investigation by an outside accrediting agency. The school will be evaluated for the quality of its educational offerings as well as its infrastructure and administration. While accreditation is an important step in establishing a school's credibility, there are numerous accreditors with differing standards operating in the educational field. Employers, schools, and government bodies are at liberty to choose the types of accreditation they will recognize when considering an individual's educational credentials. Law schools in the United States can be accredited by one of several bodies, but this does not mean that bar associations or the legal profession recognizes those accreditations as an adequate confirmation of the school's quality.
In addition to various types of general accreditation, many professions and trades look to specialized accreditation programs sponsored by preeminent professional and trade organizations as a way of assuring that a school's' offerings are in line with that profession or trade's accepted practices. Agencies that license people to trades or professions may require that they hold a diploma or degree from the school that holds the specialized accreditation. The American Bar Association is the best known professional organization for lawyers in the United States, and it does operate its own accreditation program. All states, with the exception of California, require that bar exam candidates graduate from an ABA-accredited law school.
As a result of this policy, a graduate from a non-ABA-accredited law school is at a significant disadvantage if he wishes to eventually practice law. If he lives in California, he can sit for the bar, and if he passes, he can eventually get his law license. After practicing for several years, he may be eligible to take the bar exam in another state. Otherwise, his only options are to choose a career path that does not require a law license or to complete an ABA-accredited degree. This is posed a challenge to those who wish to attend online law schools, as the ABA does not accredit juris doctor programs, though it has accredited online master's degree programs. Until the ABA begins to accredit online law schools, those who want to maximize their career potential may want to forgo online law education and choose a traditional ABA-accredited law school.