Legal Education

ABA legal ed section plans to send another diversity standard, revisions for remote learning requirements to HOD

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A law school accreditation standard requires full opportunities for underrepresented groups, and on Friday the council of the ABA's Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar approved a proposed revision to clarify that the standard does not allow schools to engage in “racial balancing” or limit representation of individuals from any group.

The proposed revision to Standard 206 is one of various suggested changes set to go to the ABA House of Delegates as soon as August 2022 at the annual meeting.

Earlier this month, the House of Delegates approved a plan to add “ethnicity,” “gender identity or expression” and “military status” to the Standard 205, which focuses on nondiscrimination and opportunity. It also approved a requirement for Standard 303, which focuses on curriculum, that law schools provide education about bias, cross-cultural competency and racism.

Regarding the more recent proposed revisions to Standard 206, notice and comment has been held, and there were concerns that earlier proposals did not comport with existing case law, according to a Feb. 10 standards committee memo.

The memo states that religiously affiliated law schools are not required under the standard to “ act inconsistently with the essential elements of its religious values and beliefs,” providing the schools’ actions are protected by applicable law. The issue of state law and affirmative action are also addressed in the memo.

“For law schools in jurisdictions that prohibit the consideration of race and ethnicity in employment and admissions decisions, Standard 206 does not compel the consideration of race and ethnicity in such decisions,” the memo states.

Others who participated in notice and comment asked for consideration of whether focusing on race and ethnicity in the standard creates a “two-tiered” diversity, equity and inclusion system, which “gives priority to racial and ethnic diversity at the expense of LGBTQ+ and disability diversity,” the memo states.

Proposed revisions to distance education standards were also approved by the council. The group voted in favor of a definition revision to make clear a course will be counted only as distance education if all faculty teaching it are separated from students. If some students taking an in-person class attend remotely, the class is still considered to be in-person, according to the memo.

Additionally, the council approved a proposed revision that eliminates a limit of 10 credit hours of distance education and replaces it with language stating that up to one-third of a law degree’s credit hours can be delivered through distance education. The suggested change falls under Standard 311, which addresses academic programs and calendars.

And in other council business, the group approved a plan to move forward with reserving one of its 21 voting seats for a lawyer with less than 10 years of experience. The proposal also seeks to change existing bylaws about Young Lawyers Division liaisons to the council so they can attend closed-session council meetings. A Feb. 8 standards committee memo details the suggested changes.

Under ABA rules, bylaw amendments must be concurred by the ABA Board of Governors, which meets in June, and voted on at the August 2022 section business meeting, according to a November 2021 standards committee memo.

The YLD in 2017 requested having two lawyers with less than five years in practice as council members. The council rejected the proposal, but in 2018, it nominated Daniel R. Thies, a 2010 Harvard Law School graduate, to the council. The Urbana, Illinois, lawyer now chairs its standards committee and is a member of its finance and governance committees.

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