ABA Annual Meeting

Legal ed section to take on proposed changes to law school accreditation standards

The ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar is facing the future of legal education head-on at this week’s ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

On Friday, the governing council of the Legal Education Section, the ABA’s law school accrediting arm, will consider a package of proposed changes in the law school accreditation standards that could reshape the world of legal education for years to come.

And, on Saturday, the ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education will hold its last scheduled public hearing in its yearlong quest to come up with a set of workable solutions to some of the more vexing problems confronting legal education and the profession.

The council’s open session begins at 10 a.m. Friday in Nikko Ballroom III at the Hotel Nikko. The council will take up three more chapters of proposed amendments to the Standards and Rules of Procedure of Approval of Law Schools, including one that could redefine the job security requirements for all full-time faculty members.

The standards review committee, which is wrapping up a comprehensive review of the standards, has proposed four alternatives to the current standard, which is widely understood to require tenure or a comparable form of security of position for all full-time faculty members except clinical professors and legal writing instructors.

The one favored by the committee would require schools to provide some form of security of position short of tenure to all full-time faculty members. But the committee has also put forth three other options: One that would keep a cleaned-up version of the current standard; another that would require schools to offer all full-time faculty members the same job protections, irrespective of academic field or teaching methodology; and a third that would not require security of position for anybody, but would still require schools to show they have policies in place to attract and retain a competent full-time faculty and protect academic freedom.

Other proposed changes before the council would increase the experiential learning requirement in the standards from one credit hour to six credit hours, increase the amount of credits law students may receive from distance learning courses from 12 to 15, and eliminate the current requirement that the student/faculty ratio be considered in determining whether a school is in compliance with the standards.

The council will also consider a proposal from its data policy and collection committee to push back by a month—from Feb. 15 to March 15—the date on which law schools measure graduate employment outcomes and to move the deadline for reporting employment outcome data back from March 15 until April 7.

It is also slated to hear from Randall T. Shepard, chair of the Task Force on the Future of Legal Education, who is expected to discuss the findings of the working paper (PDF) put out by the task force last week. The task force will also hold a public hearing on the working paper from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Golden Gate Hall C2 on the B2 level of the Marriott Marquis.

The working paper, which lays out the task force’s thinking to date, recommends some changes in the accreditation standards not currently being contemplated by the council, including several that it says increase the costs but not necessarily the quality of a legal education and others that it says impede innovation and experimentation.

The task force is also calling for a full examination of the law school financing system, greater heterogeneity in the law school curricula, more skills training and experiential learning, improvements in the regulation and licensing of law-related services and changes in the culture and role of law school faculty.

The task force, which was created at last year’s annual meeting, plans to issue its final report and recommendations by Nov. 20, the filing deadline for items to be placed on the agenda of the House of Delegates at the ABA’s Midyear Meeting in Chicago in February.

The standards review committee hopes to finish its proposed overhaul of the standards at its next meeting in Atlanta in October. Any changes in the standards must be approved by the council, then go to the House, which can either concur with the changes or refer the matter back to the council for reconsideration.

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