Almost eight years after the Charleston School of Law was founded, it has reached a major milestone: full accreditation from the American Bar Association.

Dean Andy Abrams announced the news late Friday afternoon.

"In 2003, we began with a dream to create a second law school in South Carolina, a student-centered law school focused on service to the citizens of the state and region," he said. "This is no longer a dream, but a reality."

Alex Sanders, a former judge and College of Charleston president who chairs of the school's board of directors, said the law school already has had an extraordinary impact on the nation's legal profession.

About 80 percent of its applicants come from outside the state, he noted.

"We have endeavored to teach our students the law as a profession having as its primary purpose rendering public service," he said. "We are gratified that our success has been recognized."

The school is one of just a handful that requires students to donate at least 30 hours to public service projects before they can graduate. It estimates its students have volunteered a total of 161,680 hours.

The ABA's Council of the Section of the Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar met in Toronto, Canada, this week, and its accreditation decision became a done deal when it adjourned late Friday.

The accreditation not only reaffirms the school's top-notch status but also opens the door for it to explore offering dual degrees with other Lowcountry colleges and universities, offering a Masters of Law degree (in addition to its current Jurist Doctor degree), and adding study abroad options.

The school was not accredited when it opened in the fall of 2004 because a new law school can't earn accreditation until it has been open for two years. It won provisional accreditation in December 2006 -- a decision that allowed its students to take the bar exam.

Through February, the overall bar passage rate of Charleston School of Law graduates was 86 percent, according to the school's website.

About 83 percent of its 2010 graduates said they found jobs or were enrolled in advanced degree programs.

Almost 900 students have graduated from the Charleston School of Law since its first class began graduating in May 2007.

The school's campus is centered at 81 Mary St. but includes space in other buildings along Upper King and Meeting streets. Tuition is currently $18,337 per semester for full-time students, $14,733 per semester for part-time students.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.