Is St. Francis School of Law accredited?

Yes. On Friday, August 21, 2020, St. Francis School of Law was granted accreditation by the Committee of Bar Examiners of the State Bar of California. The accreditation takes effect immediately. St. Francis will operate, for a time, both accredited and unaccredited J.D. programs as an accredited law school.

While St. Francis School of Law is not accredited by the American Bar Association, this does not prevent graduates from sitting for the bar exam in California if all degree and other requirements are met. Graduates who receive their JD online from St. Francis School of Law (and meet other eligibility requirements) may take the California General Bar Exam, and upon passing and meeting other admissions requirements, become licensed California attorneys.

It’s worth noting that all law school graduates wishing to practice in California must pass the California General Bar Exam. California does not accept transfers of bar exam test scores from any other jurisdiction. Lawyers who passed bar exams in other states but want to practice law in California must sit for the California Bar Exam, too.

The California General Bar Exam is widely regarded as the toughest state bar exam of nearly any U.S. jurisdiction. The exam’s high “cut-score” — the 1440 minimum score required for passing in California — is what gives California the reputation of having the toughest bar exam of any large state. Students from ABA-accredited schools and non-ABA-accredited schools face the same merciless test.

Graduates who receive their JD online from St. Francis School of Law sometimes perform better on the California General Bar Exam than those from other law schools. For example, our online graduates passed the February 2019 California General Bar Exam on their first attempt with a pass rate of 60%. That surpasses the first-time pass rate (45.2%) for graduates of California ABA-approved law schools taking the exam for the first time. A 45% pass rate means that the majority of these ABA-approved school graduates failed the February 2019 California Bar Exam on their first try.

Can you really get a law degree online?

St. Francis has an impeccable reputation among California’s law schools. We were the first operational, not-for-profit distance learning law school, and the only such school to achieve a better than 80% cumulative pass rate on the California First Year Law Students Exam and a better than 60% cumulative pass rate on the California General Bar Exam (through July 2019). What’s the secret?

Our law classes are online, in real-time, and utilize a low student-faculty ratio. What’s beneficial about a low student-faculty ratio? Students receive more tailored instruction and personal attention. Our program fosters more dynamic interactions among students, too. In fact, vigorous live class discussions are the norm, involving most students in the class. For comparison, an ABA-approved law school might have 50 or more students, where a similar St. Francis class has 15. The highly-accomplished student population creates an educational atmosphere that welcomes contrasting points of view and solicits a deeper understanding of legal issues.

Graduates of St. Francis also know how to practice law. Each transcript will show the graduate completed as many as two dozen quarter units in practical skills training, ranging from arguing a sentencing motion to drafting and arguing an appellate brief. Depending on electives, graduates may also negotiate and draft commercial contracts, prepare a complaint and answer interrogatories, write points and authorities for a brief, or complete an arbitration. Education at St. Francis is about making graduates practice ready in common areas of today’s law practice.

Further, each student has access to the most advanced technology in our state-of-the-art online classrooms. We use industry-standard learning tools and following the emerging best practices of online legal education.

We are proud of our laser focus on academic excellence and teamwork. Toward that end, students interact with our Director of Academic Excellence throughout their time at St. Francis, helping to assure academic success in our innovative, online world. The excellent curriculum — combined with hands-on exercises — gives students the capability to disentangle complicated client problems.

We’re proud to be an uncommonly rigorous online program with top-rated faculty and students with years of real-world, in-the-field experience. Our graduates exemplify the best and the brightest of their generation of law students.

How long does it take to get a law degree?

For students ready to study full time (no job or family commitments), it takes three years to get a Juris Doctor (JD) from an ABA-approved law school.

St. Francis is designed for, and serves, busy adults who want or need to study part time. St. Francis awards graduates a JD degree after just four years of rigorous part-time study. The four-year program allows students to continue working in their current careers while they study law. St. Francis requires 130 quarter credits of instruction in the essential courses taught at all law schools, including torts, contracts, criminal law, constitutional law, property law, civil procedure, evidence, business associations, community property, trusts, wills, and remedies, electives, and practical skills.

We offer more than a dozen elective courses to round out a student’s law school career. Electives are offered in disciplines such as administrative law, litigation skills like discovery, contract drafting, alternative dispute resolution, and employment law.

What is the curriculum like at St. Francis School of Law?

Our online classes meet twice a week. Our fall first-year students concentrate on torts for their first 20 weeks. In the winter quarter, students move on to study criminal law for 13 weeks, and starting in the spring session, the in-depth study of Contracts for 19 weeks. The cycle is similar for our spring first-year students, who begin with Contracts.

Things are different for our upperclassmen. Our upper-level students enjoy a rotating schedule where professional skills alternate with core courses and electives. The second year begins with writing skills and substantive law review ahead of the California First Year Law Students Exam. The fourth year ends with general bar exam preparation. Every student’s class schedule varies. Many of the upper-level classes have practical skill exercises. Students may conduct the arbitration in a car accident case offered by the alternative dispute resolution courses. Or, students may draft a client partnership agreement in the business associations class. Many law schools teach the same doctrinal law classes, but most do not offer practical skills exercises to the degree that we do. And our students appreciate that difference.

Is law school difficult?

Going to law school is not for everyone.  In the words of one faculty member, the study of law generally requires “talent, intellectual curiosity and commitment.” But our online JD program is worth it, according to St. Francis graduates. Our courses require a personal commitment of 3-4 hours of classes every week in the evenings. That’s just the in-class sessions led by faculty. The rigorous curriculum requires hours of reading and study outside of the classroom, just like any law school, and hours of practice training, unlike many schools.

Our law curriculum is more demanding than online study programs in other disciplines. Some of those are — reportedly — easier than offline study. In contrast, it’s been said that our online JD program is more rigorous than many brick-and-mortar law school programs.

Our students say that St. Francis’s online law study is worth it because it gives them the unbeatable combination of practical professional skills alongside their doctrinal studies. Our students also prove that the rigorous study prepares them well for the tough California exams. Our students’ and graduates’ pass rates on the California First Year Law Students Exam and General Bar Exam prove it works. St. Francis has small numbers, but sometimes the St. Francis pass rate is nearly double the pass rate for some other law schools.

Can you become a lawyer without a law degree?

Yes, you can become a lawyer without a law degree — in limited circumstances. People interested in the law as a profession are familiar with the axiom “like Lincoln did it” referring to the fact that Abraham Lincoln studied for the law as an apprentice. It’s a great story, and you can still do that in California, but the majority of lawyers in the U.S. today enter law school to study law for three or four years after they complete a four-year degree in undergraduate studies.

Still, the U.S. has a minority of lawyers that never set foot inside a law school classroom. It’s called “reading for the law”. The states that still permit it in its purest form are Virginia, Washington, Vermont, and California. Law readers participate as apprentices at law firms under the supervision of a mentor. The states of New York, Wyoming, and Maine modify the law reader rules to require “readers” to combine their apprenticeships with some formal law school training.

In California, reading for the law requires four years of study in a law firm under the supervision of an attorney who has five years of active law practice in California. The apprenticeships must include 18 hours of study each week, five of which must be under the supervising attorney’s watchful eye. California also requires monthly exams and that the supervising attorney submits progress reports twice a year to the State Bar of California.

Arguably, Washington State is the toughest on law readers. Washington requires that the law reader works in the supervising attorney’s office for four years with 30 hours of work/study apprenticeship each week in the law office and 3 hours of direct supervision each week. The supervising attorney must have a minimum of 10 years of experience and the law reader must pay $1,500 annually as a fee.

Reading for the law requires strong self-discipline and a steep learning curve. On the benefit side, studying for the law while working in a law office under the direction of a practicing attorney provides first-hand, practical experience that most law schools do not begin to match. (Though St. Francis School of Law provides great practical skills training.) Of course, after finishing the reading for the law program, the reader must still pass the applicable bar exam.

California has distinguished itself as the toughest bar exam in any large state in the U.S. It seems fair to say that California deserves that reputation. The February 2019 General Bar Exam’s “All Takers” fail rate was nearly 7 out of 10 test-takers. The pass rate of 31.4% was the second-lowest pass rate in 30 years of California Bar Exams. The pass rate for first-time exam takers was 40.6.%. People who repeated the test had a dismal 28.4% pass rate. (Meanwhile, St. Francis graduates saw a pass rate of 60% on the February 2019 California General Bar Exam.) There are those in California who would like to lower the California Bar Exam’s “cut-score” so that it is more in-line with other state cut-scores. In the meantime, a law reader has their work cut out for them when it comes to passing the California Bar Exam.

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