Law Schools

Legal Ed Section's Council Votes Not to Accredit Foreign Law Schools

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The governing council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar has decided not to get involved in the business of accrediting foreign law schools.

The council, which met Friday during the ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago, voted 15-0, with two abstentions, not to begin accrediting law schools outside of the United States.

The vote included an acknowledgement of the need to identify and establish appropriate standards and procedures for the licensing of foreign lawyers who would like to practice in this country.

The vote was in keeping with a recommendation by a special committee that has spent the past year surveying key stakeholder groups on the merits of the matter. The committee found little support for the idea among stakeholders, a majority of whom said doing so would divert the section’s attention and resources at a time of significant strain on its finances and personnel. Stakeholders also said it would be difficult, if not impossible, to acculturate students in foreign law schools in the culture, values and ethics of the American legal system. And a decision to begin accrediting foreign law schools would require the section to engage in the difficult task of developing and implementing appropriate standards and processes, including the means of monitoring compliance with the accreditation standards’ academic freedom and other U.S.-centric requirements, they said.

Several council members spoke in favor of the committee’s recommendation. Ruth V. McGregor, former chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court, said such a big and important decision would require a broad-based consensus among stakeholder groups. “It’s clear we don’t have any such consensus,” she said.

Council member Charles R. Wilson, a judge on the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said he had heard good arguments both for and against the idea. “But I agree with the committee that this is not the time for us to become an international accrediting agency,” he said.

Nobody spoke in favor of accrediting foreign law schools, although the Peking University School of Transnational Law, whose bid for ABA accreditation in 2008 prompted the council to take up the issue, submitted a written appeal for the adoption of an accreditation standard that makes no special accommodations for overseas schools but doesn’t discriminate against them, either.

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