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Another Law School May Be Closing Its Doors

Its final lesson? The importance of choosing your law school wisely.

Things are looking very dire for the students of Western State College of Law at Argosy University. As if its name could afford to be any longer, this school will probably be referred to as “the Beleaguered Western State College of Law at Argosy University” whenever it’s brought up this year.

In January, just as the winter semester was gearing up, the law school’s parent company was placed into a federal receivership (a last-resort bankruptcy measure in which the court appoints someone to take over a struggling company’s assets, to try to get that company as far out of debt as possible). As a result, the Department of Education chose to not disburse loans to students at Western State Law. So students — many of whom depend on their financial aid to pay for books and food and rent in the not-exactly-cheap city of Irvine, California — had to go through the first few weeks of their semester under an immense cloud of financial insecurity.

To make matters worse, some are now forecasting that Western State Law will soon close its doors. The school’s parent company is millions of dollars in debt, many faculty members are being let go, and the federal receiver recently filed a motion to close whichever parts of the school it can’t sell off. Which means that Western State Law may soon join Charlotte Law School, Arizona Summit Law School, and Valparaiso Law School on the list of recently shuttered schools.

So spare a kind thought and, perhaps if you are so inclined, a small act of charity for the students of Western State Law. These students are currently facing their worst-case scenario. According to Western State Law Dean Allen K. Easley, the school is trying to work out an arrangement with the American Bar Association that would allow its students to complete their studies at a nearby school, should Western State shutter. But if no arrangement is made, the school could be the first to shutter mid-semester and abruptly postpone or even end the legal careers of many of its students.

This fiasco is yet another important reminder of the importance of being incredibly selective with the law school you choose to attend. In the best of circumstances, law school is already a lengthy, difficult, and expensive proposition. In the worst circumstances, well … Bar passage rates are currently at a historic low, especially in California, where Western State Law is located. And gone are the days when a J.D. would more or less guarantee you a lucrative career. While the percentage of law grads who obtained a J.D.-advantage job increased last year, that figure had previously been in decline for nearly a decade. The path to becoming an attorney is already rife with hurdles; the last thing you need is your school to unexpectedly close.

You know which schools don’t close though? Schools with strong bar passage rates and employment figures. Those schools don’t incur the ABA’s wrath and get their accreditation threatened or revoked — unlike Charlotte and Arizona Summit. Those schools have robust alumni networks, filled with grads who donate tons of lucre to their alma mater, helping the school avoid financial ruin — unlike Western State Law’s parent company.

So do your research ahead of time. Make sure that every school you apply to has strong bar passage and employment rates. Don’t just listen to what that school says — check independent resources like the National Association for Law Placement’s Directory of Law Schools and Law School Transparency. We have more on how to research prospective law schools here.

Now, the advice to “go to a good law school” is obviously easier said than done. When your LSAT score or GPA don’t make you a competitive applicant at the top-tier national or regional law schools, it can be difficult to honestly appraise your situation. It can be tempting to settle for a lesser institution, rather than postponing your legal education for a year or two to improve your chances of getting into a good law school — whether that’s by increasing your LSAT score, or getting relevant work experience, or volunteering in the legal field. When you have the sincere and unwavering ambition to become an attorney, if feel like you need to get to law school as soon as possible.

But, as the current students at Western State Law know all too well, the risks associated with some law schools can make becoming a lawyer harder, not easier. So arm yourself with information, and choose your law school wisely.