Law Schools

ABA Puts Off Decision on Accreditation of Foreign Law Schools


The Council of the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar on Saturday put off a decision on whether to accredit foreign law schools, saying the matter needs more study.

The unanimous vote by the council, meeting at the Bayfront Hilton in San Diego, called for a complete vetting of the issue with potential stakeholders. No time limit was set for completion of the study.

In the meantime, the Council said it would not consider the accreditation of any particular foreign school until its broader study concluded. In June of 2008, the Peking University of Transnational Law announced its intention to seek accreditation from the ABA, so its graduates could potentially practice law in the U.S.

Most states require bar applicants to have graduated from ABA accredited law schools.

In August, the council’s Special Committee on Foreign Law Schools Seeking Approval Under ABA Standards recommended (PDF) the Council’s Accreditation Project—the body that actually determines whether schools meet the ABA standards—be allowed to consider accrediting foreign schools.

That proposal drew more than 60 comments, many of which opposed the change. One came from former ABA President Carolyn Lamm, a partner at White & Case, who said JD candidates “should spend at least some time” in the United States to fully comprehend “our history, societal values and the policy underlying our law.”

The committee wrote that if the section did nothing to expand accreditation to schools located outside the U.S., “pressures to find other routes to U.S. licensure will continue to increase” resulting in states being forced to make decisions about which foreign-trained individuals could sit for the bar exam and “… some states undoubtedly will authorize lawyers to enter the U.S. legal profession with weaker and less reliable training than is provided in ABA approved law schools.”

The committee said differing state standards for the evaluation of educational credentials could also result in, “more pressure on bar examiners to raise bar-passage requirements since the bar exam will be the primary means to ensure minimal quality and this will have adverse consequences for the graduates of many U.S. law schools as well.”

But the report also acknowledged a potential negative effect on U.S. lawyers. Making graduates of ABA-approved foreign law schools eligible to sit for domestic bar examinations would mean more competition for U.S. attorneys in a tight job market. And if the foreign school is government-sponsored, political difficulties could arise, creating problems “potentially with the Department of State,” the report said.

Also, foreign students who do not study in the U.S. will not benefit from the acculturation process that occurs when they study here, providing the “context for understanding the development of U.S. law and professional ethics.”

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