Law Schools

Legal Ed Section's Council Puts Off Decision on Accrediting Foreign Law Schools

Leaders of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, which accredits U.S. law schools, have postponed a decision on whether to start accrediting foreign law schools.

The section’s governing council, which met Saturday in Boston, was supposed to act on a committee’s recommendation that it not get involved in the business of accrediting law schools outside of the U.S.

But the council tabled action on the matter until its next meeting Aug. 2-3 in Chicago to give members an opportunity to read and absorb all of the material the committee has put together in support of its recommendation, says Hulett “Bucky” Askew, the ABA Consultant on Legal Education.

The action marks the second time the council has postponed a decision on the matter, which first came up after the Peking University of Transnational Law announced its intention to seek ABA accreditation so its graduates could potentially practice law in the United States.

At that time, the council called for a complete vetting of the issue with potential stakeholders and said it would not consider the accreditation of a foreign law school until the study was completed.

The committee, which has spent the past year surveying key stakeholder groups on the merits of the matter, says it has found little support for the idea of accrediting foreign law schools. It says doing so would divert the section’s attention and resources at a time of significant strain on the section’s finances and personnel. It would also be difficult, if not impossible, to acculturate students in foreign law schools in the culture, values and ethics of the American legal system. And it would require the section to develop and implement appropriate standards and processes, including the means of monitoring compliance with the standards’ academic freedom and other U.S.-centric requirements.

The committee also says that regardless of any decision the council makes about the accreditation of foreign law schools, the issue of establishing appropriate standards and procedures for the licensing of foreign lawyers in the United States would remain unresolved.

The committee’s report, along with detailed summaries of the survey results from each stakeholder group, including state chief justices, state bar examiners, law deans, bar leaders and the public, are available here (PDF).

At its meeting on Saturday, the council also gave final approval to a new standard that would greatly expand the amount of consumer information that law schools must make available to prospective students and a new rule that would toughen the sanctions that could be imposed on schools that violate the standards.

Those changes will be presented to the House of Delegates in August at the ABA’s Annual Meeting in Chicago, where the House will have an opportunity to either concur with the council’s decision or refer the matter back to the council for reconsideration. The House can only refer a change in the standards back to the council twice, after which time the council’s decision is final.

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