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UNT Dallas law school gets second chance to earn accreditation

The school is fighting a recommendation that it not be accredited, which would prevent its graduates from taking the Texas bar exam and practicing in the state.

The outside of the University of North Texas System building in downtown Dallas. The building is occupied by the UNT Dalla...

The University of North Texas at Dallas' law school will get a second chance to earn the accreditation that would allow its graduates to practice law in the state, the school learned Wednesday. 

The decision, which is expected to be announced on the American Bar Association's website on Thursday, comes after a bar committee recommended in August that UNT Dallas not receive preliminary accreditation. That would have been devastating for the school and would have meant that students who graduated from the two-year-old program wouldn't have been able to take the bar. 

Wednesday's decision remands the question of accreditation back to the committee. It doesn't quite save those students' careers, but it also doesn't put them in any more peril. Law school Dean Royal Furgeson told The Texas Tribune that UNT Dallas won’t likely hear a final answer from the bar until around the time the first law school class graduates in the spring.

In the meantime, UNT Dallas plans to apply to the Texas Supreme Court for an exception that would allow the school's first graduates to sit for the bar without a degree from an accredited institution. 

"The ABA’s decision simply says, ‘Let’s study the issue some more,'" Furgeson said. "Our plan is to be fully engaged in that study process, and we look forward to continuing our work with the ABA."

In recommending against accreditation, the ABA raised questions about UNT Dallas' lenient admissions policies and long-term financial health. That angered the school's supporters, who said that UNT Dallas was trying to be a different type of law school. Since its inception, the school has proudly deemphasized LSAT scores in the admissions process, and has sought to train lawyers for public service jobs or to start firms that cater to lower- or middle-income clients. 

But when the committee recommended against accreditation, the law school offered to make some changes to its admissions protocol. Furgeson said the school now requires a supermajority of its admissions committee to approve admission of a student who has scored less than 142 on his or her LSAT or has already enrolled in another law school but struggled academically.

"Both organizations have the same goals — to incorporate the best teaching methods into legal education, to open access to all qualified applicants, to emphasize bar passage, and to enrich the legal profession with ethical, well-prepared and highly motivated new lawyers," he said. 

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