UNT-Dallas Law School Earns Full Bar Association Approval

After more than seven years since its opening, the University of North Texas at Dallas College of Law has been fully approved by the American Bar Association – a long-standing milestone.

A bar association board gave the school full approval about two weeks ago after a final presentation by school officials in San Diego the same day. The association notified college officials of the recognition last week.

“This is a great day for UNT-Dallas because this law school has been in the works for many years,” said Felecia Epps, dean of the law school. “This is a major achievement challenge for the entire university.”

Andrew Ratley, 43, enrolled in UNT-Dallas Law School in the fall of 2019. He said the bar’s full endorsement is an affirmation of everything he’s invested in when he tried his luck in the new school.

“What I saw at UNT-Dallas was someone who challenged the traditional path,” he said. “It was so invigorating to hear that (the association) agrees that this is a great way forward.”

As he attends his classes, he is motivated by sitting in a classroom that “looks like Dallas” and represents the diversity seen in the area.

As different corners of the legal community welcome students coming out of college with the recent recognition, Ratley said even more doors will open for him and his classmates.

“If we can do what we did in a small law school in Dallas, we can be the next wave of change, that next wave of diversity in the legal industry,” he said.

The law school admitted its first class with 153 students in 2014 and had been operating under provisional accreditation since 2017. Its establishment was first approved by the legislature in 2009.

Throughout the five-year approval process, the bar association reviewed the school based on several factors, including its admissions standards, bar exam pass rates, and post-graduation employment. Graduation.

At least 75% of school graduates must pass the bar exam within two years, and the college has exceeded that standard for all of its classes except the one that just graduated last year. , Epps said.

Located in downtown Dallas in the historic Old Dallas City Hall, the law school prides itself on its diverse student body and emphasis on experiential learning – whereby students not only take courses, but also take on the responsibilities of an actual lawyer, such as drafting motions.

Of the roughly 500 graduates it has had so far, about half of them are people of color and more than half are women.

“We want to keep doing that,” Epps said. “We need more diversity in the legal profession and we are just committed to making it happen.”

New law schools like UNT-Dallas College begin without accreditation and must operate for one year before applying for provisional accreditation.

In 2016, a bar association committee advised against accrediting the law school, noting it was enrolling too many struggling students and had an unstable financial plan – revoking the Dallas institution from a seal of instrumental approval.

The committee was concerned about the number of students with low LSAT scores and poor grades.

But the college looks at other criteria when selecting students, such as work history, military service, and obstacles prospective students have overcome in their lives.

“We call it having courage, because … it doesn’t matter what your LSAT or GPA was before, it takes a lot of hard work and discipline to be successful in law school,” Epps said. “We look at the candidates, their whole file and make decisions about it.”

In the state, only graduates of accredited schools can take the Texas bar exam. They must pass the exam before they can practice law in the state.

A year later, after the law school slightly tightened its admissions standards, the bar gave it tentative approval for accreditation, which meant the school had the same privileges as fully accredited colleges.

Despite the obstacles to accreditation, the school has always strived to achieve its goal of providing a legal education to students who could not otherwise study law. They boasted low tuition – less than $20,000 last year for full-time students in the state.

“The ABA’s full endorsement advances the important work of our law school and opens up even more opportunities for students and prospective students,” UNT-Dallas President Bob Mong said in a statement. communicated. Mong is a former editor of The Dallas Morning News.

Jane Mullis, president of the school’s Student Bar Association, said she was so ecstatic she screamed when she heard of the approval.

“Accreditation is such an important part of the school’s history,” Mullis said. “(It) validates our credentials and makes them stronger for us as we go into practice.”

The Georgia native says she “took a leap of faith” when she joined the school. After nearly two years, Mullis said she has become one of his biggest advocates.

“For all of us who are graduates, it just gives us more fuel to find that post-graduation opportunity and the post-bar opportunity that we’re going to fight even harder for,” she said. “It’s the best decision I’ve ever made.”

The DMN Education Lab deepens coverage and conversation about pressing education issues critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, with support from The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, Garrett and Cecilia Boone, The Meadows Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University and Todd A. Williams Family Foundation. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of Education Lab journalism.

Nancy I. Romero