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Legal ed section presents its review of accreditation standards to ABA House this month


The council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar has wrapped up its comprehensive review of the Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools.

Following the council’s actions at its June meeting, the end of the lengthy and often difficult process of reviewing law school accreditation standards is within sight. The process has involved nearly two dozen meetings, hearings and drafting sessions of the Standards Review Committee, which recommended revisions to the council for consideration and possible adoption.

All of the revisions the council approved at meetings in June and March will be reviewed by the ABA House of Delegates in August at the 2014 ABA Annual Meeting in Boston. The House may either concur with a proposed change or refer it back to the council for reconsideration, along with a statement setting forth its reasons. But the House may only refer a matter back to the council twice, and the council has the final say on any changes in the standards.

The section council—not the ABA—is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as the accrediting agency for programs in the United States that lead to a JD degree. The council has accredited 203 institutions (four provisionally), including the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School, which offers a specialized program.

In June, the council considered six proposed changes to the accreditation standards and approved five of them. One of the approved changes would permit a law school to fill up to 10 percent of its entering class with students who haven’t taken the Law School Admission Test without getting a variance from the legal education section as long as those students are undergrads at the same institution or are seeking JDs in combination with another degree program.

Another of the council-approved changes would cap the amount of credit a school may grant a transfer student for prior legal study at no more than a third of the total number of credits required to graduate (unless those credits were earned as a JD-degree student at another ABA-approved law school).

The council also approved new rules of procedure, a new section of definitions and deletion of an entire chapter of current standards whose provisions—covering the approval, variance and amendments processes—would be moved into other sections of the standards or become rules of procedure or rules of internal operating practices.

LOSING ACADEMIC FOCUS

The only recommendation of the Standards Review Committee that the council did not approve would have eliminated the current prohibition in the accreditation standards against granting academic credit to a student who participates in a field placement program for which the student receives compensation.

A majority of the council sided with opponents of the proposed change, who fear that allowing students to be paid for participating in a field placement program would undermine the academic focus of the experience. “If this is about the educational experience, it shouldn’t be turned into a job,” says Edwin J. Butterfoss, a professor at Hamline University School of Law and one of the council members who voted against the proposal.

In a related action (but not part of the review process), the council approved a new protocol for auditing law school graduate employment data, beginning with the graduating class of 2015. The new protocol will seek to ensure that employment outcome data maintained by the school is consistent with the numbers reported to the section. The council also discussed but took no action on a proposed set of internal operating practices that would apply to the section’s accreditation work. Council members indicated that the proposal needs to be more widely vetted, and that they planned to pick up where they left off when they gather during the annual meeting.

Read the revised ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools.

This article originally appeared in the August 2014 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: “It’s a Wrap: Legal ed section presents its review of accreditation standards to the House this month.”

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