Attending a Non-ABA School

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Last night we had a really informative Blog Talk Radio show about whether law school is worth the financial sacrifice. I really want to thank the four attorneys who participated and everyone who sent in questions. If you missed it, you can hear the 45-minute discussion by clicking this Blog Talk Radio – Ann Levine link or by downloading it at iTunes (BTR-Ann Levine).

I often get questions from people wondering whether they should attend law schools that are state bar accredited as opposed to ABA accredited. My expertise is in ABA law schools, but I have many friends who are attorneys who graduated from California State Bar schools. My very good friend Lynn Goebel agreed to be interviewed for the blog in order to provide insights for those contemplating attending non-ABA schools.

  1. What school did you attend for law school? Why did you choose that school?

I attended the Santa Barbara College of Law.  I wanted to stay locally in Santa Barbara and I thought its course schedule (three nights a week) would allow me to continue to work during the day and attend classes at night.

  1. Did you have any qualms about attending a non-ABA school? What were your concerns, if any? Did you see any benefits?

I’m a California native and I have no visions of leaving this state.  I do have an expectancy interest in a farm in Indiana, but I don’t see myself picking up and moving out there to be a country lawyer.  It worried me very little to attend a non-ABA school.  Because I’ve been in practice for a number of years now, I believe I may be eligible to sit for other states’ Bar Exams, but I really don’t see that kind of torture in my future.

3.     What did law school cost?

I believe I paid $225 per unit when I attended (September 1997 through December 2000).  And I had the opportunity to pay per quarter which worked out well for me, budget-wise.  I bought a few books used from former students and A LOT of people were willing to share their study aids (like those flashcards in the yellow boxes whose name escapes me….).  So maybe the total tuition was about $20,000 for the whole experience?  Plus, throw in the cost of books.  I was very fortunate to be a BARBRI representative so I received all of their great study aids for free.

4.     How do you think your law school experience was different from that of someone attending an ABA school?

I was perhaps less stressed?  Or maybe I’m just in denial about my level of stress.  It’s a rather tight-knit bunch that graduates each year because there’s only about 25-35 students in each graduating class.  Many of the SBCL attendees remain in Santa  Barbara to practice law.  It’s nice to see that guy that sat next to you in Contracts doing so well or that gal that I always thought was far too busy reading magazines in the back row and not paying attention now as a named and successful partner at a local firm.

5.     Did you work while in school, and –if so – how did that factor in to your decision to attend your school? How did it impact your law school experience?

I worked full-time at a local accident reconstruction firm during the entire time I was in law school.  I was likely sleep-deprived throughout the whole experience.  During my last year when I had to do an externship to complete my degree, every Thursday I’d get up at 4 a.m., work at my job from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m., go to my externship from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., get a bite to eat and then go to class from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.  I slept rather well on Thursday nights.  However, I’d do it all again the same way.  I emerged a successful graduate without any law school debt.  Without that financial pressure, it’s a lot easier to smile each day.

6.     How would you describe the faculty at the law school and how would you characterize student/faculty interactions?

The faculty at the school is comprised of local lawyers and judges.  They were very approachable and one of them later hired me as a new associate.  I’d say that we interacted very well.

7.    What were your career goals when you entered law school? Did they prove idealistic or reasonable/attainable?

I just wanted to emerge with a J.D. and a continued willingness to help people with their legal troubles.  So, I suppose my goals were both:  somewhat idealistic, but most definitely attainable.

8.    Tell us about your career path as an attorney. How did you find each job and how did it lead to future opportunities?

My first job as an attorney was via a friendship I’d maintained with one of the school’s instructors, post-graduation.  She said her firm was looking to hire an associate, I sent her my resume, she and the managing partner called me moments later…and I found myself giving two weeks’ notice at my then-job and diving headfirst into the practice of family law.  The relationships I built at that firm then paved the way for my future employers.

9.   You now have your own law practice. What is that like?

Well, other than the fact that my boss is a real jerk, I’m having a great time.  I do need to be a bit more disciplined on maintaining a regular work schedule.  But, I’ve really enjoyed not having to set the alarm every day.  One of the downsides, though, is not having law partners to bounce ideas off of.  But I have a number of wonderful friends that practice family law who seem to readily want to help me out.  And they’re so much smarter than me! That’s invaluable.

10.  In your case, did attending law school make sense (financially)?

Most definitely.  When I was pondering whether or not to attend law school, I saw that I was going to “top out” administratively at my job so it made financial sense to add some education and marketability to my skill set in order to be able to continue to increase my earning ability.  So, now I’ve got a nice degree to stick on my ego wall at the office and I get to do what I went to law school to do: help people with their legal troubles.  Plus, my brother-in-law (whom I adore) says it’s good that I’m a lawyer so I can be of some use to him.  He’s all about usefulness.  He said I could either be a mechanic or a lawyer because both professions would be of assistance to him.  I laughed, told him I wouldn’t look good in coveralls, and went to law school.  I can change the oil in my car.  He can change his own damn oil.

11.  Anything else you think people should know about choosing a non-ABA school?

Do it!  Make sure you remain a grounded, well-rounded person.  Be open to every opportunity that presents itself and take advantage of those opportunities for which you have the time and, more importantly, the interest.  Years later, it will matter very little to anyone which law school you attended; it will matter more the kind of person you are.

A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, Lynn E. Goebel came to Santa Barbara in 1990 to attend the University of California, Santa Barbara, studying Law & Society with a Criminal Justice Emphasis.  She earned her Bachelor of Arts from the University in 1994. After graduation, Ms. Goebel worked in the product liability field while attending the Santa Barbara College of Law.  She earned her J.D. in 2001 and was admitted to practice in California that same year. Ms. Goebel has practiced family law in Santa Barbara since 2001.    She presently serves as the President of the Santa Barbara County Bar Association, having previously served as its Secretary, Treasurer, and Editor-in-Chief of the Santa Barbara Lawyer magazine.  Her other commitments include serving the Legal Aid Foundation of Santa Barbara County as its President in 2008-2009 and currently as board member. She has served the community as the co-race director for the Law Day Running Races, a local footrace to benefit the Legal Aid Foundation.  She is also a board member of the Rental Housing Mediation Task Force (a Santa Barbara City Advisory Group). Recently honored as one of the “Top Young Lawyers in Southern California,” Ms. Goebel’s practice emphasizes both family law litigation and mediation. A former member of the William L. Gordon Inns of Court and Beverly Hills Bar Association, Ms. Goebel is currently a member of the Santa Barbara County Bar Association, Santa Barbara Women Lawyers, Santa Barbara Barristers, and the Los Angeles County Bar Association.

8 thoughts on “Attending a Non-ABA School

  1. Great interview! Just goes to show that students can be successful graduating from a lesser-known program when they know what they want to get out of the experience and have realistic expectations.

  2. Austin on said:

    Good insight as to having direction and a feeling of purpose. Its not always about the top school or program, but about your intentions, goals and reasons behind wanting to attend.

  3. Pingback: Online Law School: Is it for me? - Magoosh LSAT Blog | Magoosh LSAT Blog

  4. Great article, and thank you for taking the time to write on such an important issue. I have spoken to several educators on the attendance of an ABA school vs. California State Examiners (CSE) law school and have conflicting responses. However after reading your article it just makes sense to graduate from a Non ABA school.

  5. Hello, and definitely a big thank you. Most of us who are not fortunate to attend those big-shot Law Schools, will always wonder whether our education will mean something in the job market out there. I feel that in the end, the hard work you put behind this will matter more than the hard dollars you spend on a big school.

  6. DawnMarie on said:

    This was very helpful and encouraging. I just cannot see justifying the cost of attending a traditional ABA school that takes the same exam. Neither gives a guarantee of passing, it is putting in the work.

  7. Warspite on said:

    Though I went to a law school that hovers around a #20 ranking I can assure everyone I was far from overly impressed with the school at the time, or for that matter since.

    Unless you have money to throw away going to an unaccredited law school is a mistake or waste of time. It has become difficult enough to get a decent job when graduating a quality school. Going to an unaccredited school basically put you from the number 202 ranked law school. In front of you are the 150 actual ranked school and about 50 unranked though accredited schools.

    There is a shortage of jobs in the legal market because of the enormous number of law school grads every year. The grads of the first 14 or 15 schools who did well have the easiest time. Then comes kids who did really well at the schools from around #15 to maybe 35 or so. Then it flips back to kids from the T-14 or so who only did ok. Then the same with schools 15-35. And so it goes for a while.

    As you get farther & farther down the ranked 150, jobs get tougher & tougher. Even if you’re law review at Hamline don’t expect a bunch of offers. If you’re “just” top quarter at a Hamline you had better know someone. Then before you get to non accredited schools there are about 50 unranked law schools of low repute, some pouring out 250+ JD’s every year. These people find it very, very, very difficult to find law jobs.

    I cannot recommend going to some non accredited school. Unless you are just doing it for fun or have a job lined up and just need a degree you are wasting your money. As far as hanging out a shingle, keep in mind you’d be competing vs all the aforemtioned thousands of grads from lousy accredited schools who can’t find jobs.

    And the above is w/o consideration on passing the bar exam. If statistics indicate bar passage rates are below 50% going to a non accredited school sounds like poor preparation for practicing law. If some school has a ridiculously low bar passage rate do not waste three (or more) years of your life. (Btw, it’s pretty easy getting in all the unranked law schools, as well as many of the 100-150 ranked schools. I understand costs are high, but you are better off with $200k in loans and doing well at a good school than spending $50k at a non accredited law school)

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