Law Schools

ABA Effort to Add Outcomes to Accreditation Standards Roils Law Deans


A proposed shift in ABA law school accreditation standards away from “input” measures—such as student/faculty ratio or facilities—to student learning outcomes has law school deans talking; and worrying.

“I think the concern of deans is twofold,” Northwestern University School of Law Dean David Van Zandt, told the National Law Journal. “There’s the worry that this will create a lot more cost for schools and the concern over how open-ended the requirements will be. Will the ABA make us jump through too many hoops?”

The proposal (PDF) proffers that law schools should “identify, define and disseminate the learning outcomes it seeks for its graduating students and for its program of legal education to enable its students to participate effectively, responsibly and ethically in the legal profession.”

New York Law School Dean Richard Matasar, president of the American Law Deans Association, told the National Law Journal that he is worried that requiring law schools to develop and execute ways to assess what students have learned could end up driving up tuition costs.

Hulett “Bucky” Askew, the ABA’s consultant on legal education, told the National Law Journal that it’s too early to tell whether following the new standards would increase law schools’ costs, but said cost is being taken into consideration. He also said that any new standards would have to be approved by the Council of the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, and that process could continue through 2012 or 2013.

But Matasar and other academics the National Law Journal spoke to at Association of American Law School’s annual meeting last month see this proposal as a positive development. At an AALS program last year, Matasar emphasized law schools’ responsibilities to their students.

“We own our students’ outcomes,” Matasar said. “We took them. We took their money. We live on their money. … And if they don’t have a good outcome in life, we’re exploiting them. It’s our responsibility to own the outcomes of our institutions. If they’re not doing well … it’s gotta be fixed. Or we should shut the damn place down. And that’s a moral responsibility that we bear in the academy.”

Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar began its review of the ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for the Approval of Law Schools in September of 2008. The section’s Standards Review Committee drafted a Statement of Priniciples (PDF) to guide its work on a review of the standards. Comments and observations about the standards and rules can be sent to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), assistant consultant on legal education.

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