Will the prestige of Purdue University help Concord Law?
As Concord Law School pursues an Indiana Supreme Court rule change so that its graduates can sit for the state bar exam, the fully online institution recently announced it will have a new name, Purdue Global Law School, starting in November. Currently, the state only allows graduates of ABA-accredited law schools to take the test.
Purdue University’s acquisition of the law school, which had been part of the for-profit Kaplan University, was finalized in 2018. Considering the university’s academic respect, the new name will help the law school, says Martin Pritikin, its dean.
Also, its current name, Concord Law School at Purdue Global, is a little wordy, he adds. The average age of its students is 45, and most work full time, according to Pritikin. The school has three graduations per year.
Concord, described as the country’s first fully online law school, opened in 1998, according to the Purdue University website. New graduates can only sit for the bar exam in California because Concord is accredited by the Committee of Bar Examiners of the State Bar of California, and the jurisdiction does not prohibit graduates of non-ABA-accredited law schools from taking its bar exam. Pritikin says 20 other jurisdictions allow Concord graduates to take bar exams after being admitted in California.
During the pandemic, most law schools went online, and today there are several online and hybrid JD programs offered by accredited law schools, which received substantive variances from the council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. There’s one fully online pilot program, at St. Mary’s University School of Law, with ABA approval.
Concord Law does not have plans to seek ABA accreditation anytime soon. Standard 702 requires law schools to have facilities, and only fully approved schools can get variances, according to Bill Adams, the ABA’s managing director for accreditation and legal education.
Having a physical campus would drive up operating costs significantly, according to Pritikin. He also says some of their law students don’t have the flexibility to attend a hybrid program’s in-person classes.
The State Bar of California does not release bar exam pass rates by school if there are fewer than 11 test takers from the institution, and no Concord Law statistics are publicly available from the July 2022 administration. The school had 13 first-time test-takers for the state’s February 2023 administration, and the pass rate was 62%. Of the 353 graduates of ABA-accredited law schools who took the California bar for the first time in February 2023, the pass rate was 48%.
Pritikin admits that pursuing the Indiana rule change is an uphill battle. The law school filed its petition for a rule change with the state supreme court in 2022. The court appointed a working group chaired by Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Nancy Vaidik. They could not reach a consensus on what should happen next, and instead released a February 2023 report with the proposal’s pros and cons.
As positives, the report notes that online learning plays an important role in legal education. Concord Law, which has a long, pre-pandemic history of providing online education, offers high-quality course content, according to the report. It describes Purdue’s academic reputation as “world-renowned.”
Additionally, the report acknowledged that Hoosiers living in northwest, northeast or southern Indiana have no nearby in-state law schools.
Cons listed include the law school having lower academic credentials, which could pull down the state bar pass rate. The report also notes that graduates of ABA-accredited law schools tend to perform better on bar exams than those graduating from non-ABA-accredited schools, including Concord Law.
Also discussed as a negative was that the law school had significantly less faculty resources than Notre Dame Law School, Indiana University Maurer School of Law or Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law.
The Indiana State Bar Association, a membership organization, opposed the proposal on the basis that the best way to ensure a good legal education is through a reliable accreditation process, which the state does not have.
Additionally, the deans of Maurer and McKinney submitted comments opposing the proposed rule change, as did the Indianapolis Bar Association, the Indiana Lawyer reported.
“Entrenched interests don’t like this; the court could be facing headwinds if they do this. But we think it would benefit Indiana,” Pritikin says. He does not know when the Indiana Supreme Court will release an order regarding Concord Law’s petition.
Concord has considered mergers with other law schools, but that would likely bring additional expenses as well, Pritikin says. Average annual tuition is $12,420, according to the law school’s website.
Pritikin sees Concord Law as a school of opportunity. He doesn’t plan to compete for slots in the top 50 of U.S. News & World Report’s law school rankings, or even its top 100.
“There are already schools that fill that niche. A big pitch of our petition is we are not looking to horn in Indiana University’s action,” he says.