Commonwealth's public law school building momentum to diversify the legal profession and expand access to justice for citizens
DARTMOUTH, MA - The UMass School of Law has earned full accreditation by the American Bar Association (ABA), a major milestone for the Commonwealth's public law school. A letter received this morning from the ABA stated that UMass Law "has demonstrated that it is in full compliance with each of the Standards."
The law school, located at UMass Dartmouth, was established by unanimous vote of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education in 2010 after the Southern New England School of Law donated all of its assets, including its 75,000 square foot building and 8.5-acre property, to the university. The donation was valued at $23 million.
The school earned provisional ABA accreditation on schedule in 2012. Full accreditation, the final step in the national accreditation process, means that the school has met or exceeded all ABA quality standards.
"Full ABA accreditation of the UMass School of Law means that Massachusetts now offers its residents a public, in-state legal-education option that is nationally accredited," UMass President Marty Meehan said. "From the moment it entered the UMass system in 2010, UMass Law has had an essential focus on social justice, public service and helping the most vulnerable members of our society. For those of us concerned about protecting the rights of all residents of the Commonwealth, UMass Law will play a key role in that effort moving forward."
"This is a landmark day for UMass Dartmouth, the UMass Law School and the SouthCoast region," UMass Dartmouth interim Chancellor Peyton R. Helm said. "We are fortunate to have in Marty Meehan a president who has been a strong advocate throughout the accreditation process. I also want to thank the faculty, staff, and students who personify the school's mission of quality and service every day."
"The presence of a fully accredited law school enhances the academic offerings of not just UMass Dartmouth, but of the entire public higher education system in Massachusetts," Dr. Helm added. "The home of Adams, Hancock, Brandeis, Douglass and so many others who have worked to bend the moral arc of the universe toward justice can now claim full membership in the national community of legal education."
"I am so proud of the UMass Law faculty, students and staff for achieving this recognition," School of Law Dean Eric Mitnick said. "UMass Law is uniquely situated as the first and only public law school in the Commonwealth. We recently entered the most diverse first-year class in all of New England, while at the same time strengthening our admissions statistics and bar pass outcomes. UMass Law demonstrates it is possible to offer a high-quality legal education at an affordable price while serving a critical social justice mission."
"As president, Marty Meehan has championed the cause of UMass Law with boundless energy and unshakeable commitment. In our quest to win full accreditation, we were required to make our case before the American Bar Association's accreditation committee and the ABA Council. In both instances, President Meehan stood shoulder to shoulder with us, stressing the importance of social justice, as well as the university's total commitment to UMass Law," Dean Mitnick added.
"This is wonderful news," said Student Bar Association President Mary McBride, a second year law student from Bridgewater. "If you talk to any student, you will learn that we are all proud to be here. The community of this school is so tight-knot and supportive. The public interest ethic of this school is really what draws us here, and this recognition by the ABA advances that mission."
Since its establishment in 2010, the 190-student UMass Law has seen steady improvement in the LSAT scores and GPAs of incoming students and the bar pass rate of graduates to levels similar to other law schools in Massachusetts. UMass Law's 25th percentile LSAT is already higher than 40 out of the 205 ABA law schools in the country.
Meanwhile, UMass Law has established a leadership position in creating legal education opportunity by recruiting one of the most diverse student bodies in the country and holding the line on student charges.UMass Law had the most diverse entering class in New England in 2015 (35.5%) and the rate is 33% this year.
In-state tuition is now $26,466, about half the cost of private law schools. UMass Law graduates' average debt load is lower than that of 115 of the 182 ABA law schools that reported debt load.
UMass Law students - in keeping with UMass Dartmouth's nationally recognized commitment to civic engagement - have generated more than 87,000 hours of service (valued at more than $4.5 million) for the community through pro bono legal assistance, public interest law fellowships and other programs. The school is one of the first in the country to make pro bono and experiential learning service a graduation requirement.
The school's Public Interest Fellowship Program, which provides a 50% scholarship to students who commit to practice public interest law upon graduation, has placed students in dozens of civic, government and non-profit organizations across the region, including:
- Committee for Public Counsel Services
- MA Department of Children and Families
- Fair Employment Project
- New Bedford, Taunton and Fall River city halls
- Buzzards Bay Coalition
- District Attorney offices in Bristol County, Essex County, Middlesex County
- Beacon Hospice
- Children's Advocacy Center
The school is also confronting the well-documented challenge of large numbers of Massachusetts citizens going to court in civil cases without legal representation. The school established Justice Bridge, a legal practice incubator in Boston and New Bedford, to provide low-cost legal assistance to low-income people. Justice Bridge has processed more than 3,500 cases in its two years of existence. The lessons learned from the incubator will be used to guide the development of a new legal practice business model and the curriculum of UMass Law.
The law school faculty has also been making a significant contribution to legal scholarship:
- Professor Jeremiah Ho's proposals related to opioid screening for expectant mothers will be published in the Harvard Journal on Legislation.
- Professor Hillary Farber has written and presented on state and national regulations related to drones.
- Professor Margaret Drew has been recognized for her expertise in laws related to domestic violence.
- Professor Jason Potter Burda's HIV prevention scholarship has appeared in the Journal of the International AIDS Society.
The school has achieved ABA accreditation during a period of declining law school enrollment nationwide, but unlike many schools, it has seen stable enrollments in recent years. With ABA accreditation, the school expects to grow enrollment over the next several years to build a budget surplus. "With national accreditation, we expect enrollment to grow in the coming years, which will strengthen our financial bottom line and allow us to keep investing in quality," Mitnick said. "We're just getting started."
News of the ABA accreditation was met with congratulations from many sectors of the community:
"Today marks a significant milestone for this school as well as the entire Southcoast community," said Senate Assistant Majority Leader Mark Montigny, who helped lead Senate efforts to secure the creation of the Commonwealth's only public law school." Since its inception, these students have provided well over 87,000 hours of pro bono work, valued at $4.5 million. This impact cannot be overstated, and so today I congratulate the UMass Law family."
"As a graduate of UMass Law, SouthCoast attorney, legislator, and former Bristol County prosecutor, I am gratified that our law school has been recognized for its quality and its unyielding pursuit of justice," said state Rep. Christopher Markey, D-Dartmouth.
"The ABA's recognition of UMass Law's quality is evidence of what we know from our first-hand experience with the students and graduates who have worked in our office," said Bristol County District Attorney Tom Quinn. "UMass Law prepares lawyers with the skills, ethics and desire to serve the public interest."