Law Schools

ABA Committee Approves Proposed Changes in Law School Accreditation Standards

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An ABA committee has voted to approve a package of proposed changes in the law school accreditation standards covering facilities, equipment, technology, libraries and information services.

The proposed changes, unanimously approved Friday by the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar’s Standards Review Committee, will be presented to the section’s governing council at its Nov. 30 meeting in Denver.

If the council grants preliminary approval to the proposed changes, they will be publicly posted for notice and comment. Then they will come back to the council for final approval, possibly at its March 2013 meeting in Tempe, Ariz.

The proposed changes, contained in two chapters of the law school accreditation standards, are more stylistic than substantive. One chapter deals with law libraries and information resources. The other addresses law school facilities, technology and equipment.

Committee chair Jeffrey Lewis, a professor and former dean at St. Louis University School of Law, said the proposed changes are designed to modernize the standards in light of advances in technology. “We’re trying to provide law schools with a wide range of ways to meet the standards,” he said Saturday, following a meeting of the committee in Atlanta.

Under the current standards, law schools are required to maintain a law library that is an “active and responsive force” in the educational life of the school. The standards also require schools to provide the library with “sufficient financial resources” to support the school’s teaching, scholarship, research and service programs, and to keep the library abreast of changes in technology.

Those requirements have led some critics to suggest—wrongly, in the view of section officials—that the current standards have contributed to the high costs of a legal education by mandating expensive expenditures on things like extensive library collections, faculty scholarship requirements and low teaching loads.

Under the proposed standards, law schools would be required to provide the library with the resources necessary to carry out the school’s program of legal education, accomplish its mission and support scholarship and research. Libraries also would be required to maintain a “core collection” of essential materials, either through ownership or through a particular means of reliable access.

The current standards also require law schools to have physical facilities adequate for their current program of legal education and for anticipated growth. The proposed changes would require law schools to have sufficient facilities, technology and equipment to enable them to operate in compliance with the standards and to carry out their program of legal education.

The committee’s decision to vote on the proposed changes in two chapters and forward those recommendations to the council now marks an apparent shift in strategy. With the exception of the new consumer information disclosure requirements, which were approved by the council earlier this year, the committee had originally planned to submit all of its proposed changes to the council as a package when it finishes its overhaul of the standards, which it hopes to do by the end of next year.

But Lewis said on Saturday the committee has decided that to the extent possible, it should forward its final recommendations to the council “in a more digestible fashion,” or as soon as it is able.

At its meeting in Atlanta, the committee also discussed whether the current standards, which allow some students with a degree from a law school outside of the United States to earn credit towards a J.D. degree for some coursework taken in an L.L.M. program at an ABA-approved law school, should be changed. But no decisions were made.

Also see:

National Law Journal: “Prospects dim for nationalized law student pro bono mandate”

Updated at 2:39 p.m. to add link to National Law Journal coverage.

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